Op-Ed: Kentucky’s workforce needs ways to process and heal

By Paula Garner, Maryhurst CEO

The following op-ed was written by Paula Garner, Maryhurst CEO. Maryhurst is a nonprofit child welfare agency that provides counseling, education resources, and independence services for more than 700 Kentucky children and families annually.

Reliable routine is a cornerstone of mental wellness. The unpredictability of the past two years — childcare closures, the back-and-forth of nontraditional instruction, pandemic-related shortages, and more — has upset our routines and introduced harmful stressors to our daily lives.

Those working in service and social sector jobs have felt this most keenly. They’ve logged overtime schedules for months in the face of short staffing and overwhelming demand. Traditional self-care hasn’t felt like a realistic option.

How can we expect our teachers, health care teams and service members to continue their critical work if they haven’t had time to resolve the traumas they are currently experiencing?

Our city’s helpers need help.

Louisville’s Trauma Resilient Communities (TRC) initiative, a program managed by the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, implements trauma-sensitive care principles with help from participating ‘backbone’ organizations. Tapping into the wisdom of these principles can provide an anchor for struggling groups.

As a TRC backbone agency, Maryhurst – Kentucky’s oldest child welfare agency – employs several hundred staff who work with families in conflict and young survivors of abuse and neglect. We’ve made it a priority to train each team member – from therapists to administrative staff – in trauma-sensitive care.

While training can’t change the difficult circumstances and demanding schedule of a social sector career, it provides helpful practices and a lens for understanding one another. Trauma-sensitive care offers an approach that helps teams support each other within challenging environments. It encourages us to ask, “what happened to you?” and never “what’s wrong with you?” Perhaps most importantly, it teaches us to build resilience.

Relationships are the antidote to trauma. Forming close connections and building resiliency skills can improve our ability to cope with traumatic experiences. However, building resiliency and self-care routines must be intentional. Here are three tips in building resiliency that can bolster mental wellbeing for those feeling overwhelmed in their work:

  • Broaden and lean on social supports and connections outside of work. Whether it’s through church, neighborhood associations or sports, groups play a large role in our lives. These supportive networks give us a safe place away from work to decompress.
  • Build routines. You can’t routinize your whole life, but having a set wake up schedule or reserving a daily period for “partner time,” “best friend time” or “family time” sets boundaries and gives you something to look forward to each day.
  • Practice gratitude and kindness. It may sound cliche but being kind can go a long way. There are neurobiological impacts to our brain when we demonstrate acts of kindness. And this goes beyond being kind to others; it means finding ways to prioritize our own wellbeing and happiness too. Physiologically and collectively, we benefit as a community when we take care of one another and ourselves – even in small, interpersonal doses. 
This June will mark two years for Paula as CEO at Kentucky’s oldest child welfare agency.

These are more than mental health tips; these are exercises that strengthen zeal, or what we call ‘love in action.’ Zeal is an important trait and one of Maryhurst’s core values. Zeal is what keeps us motivated and gives us purpose when adversity strikes. It’s why we show up on the difficult days.

Zeal is the value that I hold most dear and what guides me in my work as a leader. And it’s the same value that helpers must continue to call upon in 2022, providing us with renewed strength, courage and resilience.

Often, taking that first step to reach out for help can be the most difficult, but please remember it’s not a sign of weakness.  Your doctors, faith communities, and family members can support you. If you’re unsure where to start, you can find information on the counseling and youth services offered at Maryhurst by visiting maryhurst.org/renewal.

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