Thank you, Supportive Conversations volunteers!

Department news | November 29, 2021

In the early weeks of the COVID 19 pandemic, we were asked to start a volunteer-driven Supportive Conversations program led by Mollie Forrester, MSW, LICSW, to bolster the mental health of our UW Medicine colleagues. Within a matter of days, over 80 faculty and staff signed up to volunteer their time and clinical expertise. None of us could have predicted what the future held for our program but 20 months later we’ve had some time to reflect on our successes and impact.

To date, Supportive Conversations has received 117 requests from faculty and staff from worksites throughout UW Medicine. Of those who contacted us for help, nearly 75% were successfully matched with a program volunteer. These informal conversations helped people manage acute panic and stress reactions, cope with protracted isolation, or address the cumulative impact of pre-existing mental health conditions exacerbated by the pandemic. As the months passed and new stressors were added, our volunteer pool remained a dedicated and steadfast resource. Along the way we were fortunate to have the added expertise of our Trauma Recovery Innovations program colleagues, Drs. Kristen Lindgren, Michele Bedard-Gilligan and Emily Dworkin who trained hundreds of us in Psychological First Aid and Skills for Psychological Recovery.

In late 2020, UW Medicine received a donation to expand Supportive Conversations which resulted in the launch of  the Employee Mental Health Support (EMHS) program in March, 2021. The EMHS offers mental health navigation assistance or direct mental health care within the UWMC Outpatient Psychiatry Clinic (OPC)for those who want it and are eligible – resources we were unable to provide previously but that we knew were much needed. Our department’s Mental Health Navigation (MHN) team provided the initial navigation assistance until September 2021 when OPC was able to hire a social worker to coordinate this important work. The EMHS program has triaged over 160 referrals and offered direct assistance to nearly 140 members of our workforce.

Now that EMHS is a stand-alone program, our Supportive Conversations offering will sunset. Please join us in celebrating the incredible impact our volunteers have had on the mental health and wellbeing of our colleagues. They offered comfort, helped reduce stigma, suggested concrete coping strategies, and provided colleagues with much needed respite and hope in truly unprecedented times. We know times have been challenging for everyone and their dedication continues to be a source of much pride and inspiration to the entire UW community. Thank you!