As a person who was first introduced to medicine through my own health complications, I had always considered my own health solely in physical control. My image of health took shape in eating enough iron, eating proper proportions of food groups, and exercising to build my cardiovascular strength. Health was the study of medicine and the biochemical interactions that helped my body function correctly. In my final year of high school, when I was looking beyond my textbooks and searching for the difference I wanted to make in the world, I discovered health in a whole new venue. It appeared everywhere: while accompanying lonely patients in hospice and hospital services, while being a confidant to friends in difficult times. I saw more and more how each and every person had a significant history and dimension unknown to me, shrouded in stigma and silence. I began to focus on a new type of health, equally important: mental health.
Issues with mental health have come to the forefront especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my first month of service at Hope Haven, a non-profit provider of educational and clinical treatment for children and families with disabilities, I assisted Licensed Mental Health Counselors with launching a clinical therapy program for adolescents. It was an exciting opportunity: we would use mixed reality technology to allow clients with disabilities to practice and learn social communication from virtual avatars. However, while reaching out to interested families who signed on, I also spoke with more families who could not leave their homes due to the pandemic. One mother spoke to me about her son who had health issues and was recovering from stomach surgery. He wanted to meet new people but had no opportunity. They both were so excited to be in the program I felt I had let them down by not having any possible virtual option for them to attend.
Our conversation stuck with me, as I thought about all the immunocompromised individuals isolated for months by the pandemic. I envisioned an outlet for these clients: a virtual space for people of all abilities to bond in a safe environment that I could help facilitate. In October, I launched this program: Zoomin’ Game Nights. For the past 10 weeks, we have played various online games or simply chatted about our lives. It was an enriching experience for me, especially to reach the client who inspired the program and be able to provide a welcoming social space.
My service term is far from over and I have much more I want to learn and provide. I am eager to learn more about issues associated with mental health, whether through implementing mental health education in the wellness course I teach or beginning more initiatives as my Zoomin’ Game Nights program. The issues that COVID-19 brought up (people of different abilities without the technologies or resources to adapt to a rapidly changing world) have significantly influenced my view of the extent of healthcare. Their stories will stay with me far after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
This blog was authored by NHC Florida Member Kathleen Young. She serves at Hope Haven as a Care Coordinator.