Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) partnered with Emmy award-winning sports broadcaster Joel Goldberg to bring awareness to the behavioral health challenges affecting our community on his podcast, Rounding the Bases. Kristin Gernon LCSW LMSW, a behavioral health training and development specialist at Blue KC, joined Joel and other guests including teenagers, educators, parents, frontline workers and first responders from local organizations to normalize the conversation around behavioral health and encourage Kansas Citians to seek help for themselves and loved ones in need.
These conversations are important to have to shift perceptions around the use of behavioral health services. We encourage everyone to listen to these podcasts, each lasting less than one hour, and share with your community. Below are summaries of each podcast to help familiarize you with our guests and share the important behavioral health advice and resources available to Blue KC members.
For recaps of our first three podcasts in the series, read our first Rounding the Bases blog on The Blueprint.
Kim Colegrove – Pause First Academy & Whitney Logan – The Battle Within | Mindful by Blue KC Special Series Part 4
The fourth installment of our special series with Joel Goldberg focused on a topic that has come to the forefront during the pandemic – access to quality care for first responders, veterans and other frontline workers. Pause First Academy founder and The Battle Within meditation instructor Kim Colegrove joined Joel Goldberg, Kristin Gernon and The Battle Within clinical director Whitney Logan to discuss behavioral health struggles relevant to our heroes and how we can help them.
A personal tragedy in Kim’s life compelled her to leave her corporate job to support first responders. In 2014, Kim’s husband, David, died by suicide shortly after he retired from his 30-year law enforcement career. Sadly, David Colegrove’s story is not entirely unique – in fact, a 2017 study revealed that more first responders die by suicide than from injuries sustained in the line of duty.
Empowered by her desire to prevent other families from grappling with similar tragedies, Kim set out to use her passion for meditation to support first responders through wellness programming and mindfulness instruction.
According to The Battle Within clinical director, psychotherapist Whitney Logan, MA, LCPC, LPC, RYT, frontline workers are especially prone to suffering in silence because of stigmas associated with reaching out for help.
“When you have personal traumas of any kind, the psychological defenses that people employ to deal with them are subconscious and automatic,” she said. “When we’re unaware that what we’re doing is repressing the pain of our experiences, or we feel there is a stigma and we can’t share how we feel, that increases psychological suffering.”
“Suffering is a resistance and psychological defense to pain,” Whitney explained. “Our brains try to protect us from feeling overwhelmed by engaging in defense mechanisms such as dissociation or hypervigilance, which can offer comfort in the immediate event of a crisis but have long-term consequences for those who continually resist those feelings of suffering instead of confronting them head-on.”
Kim emphasized to Joel that police officers and other first responders are human beings just like the rest of us and tend to carry the emotional burdens of their work home with them, which can cause or amplify behavioral health issues when not properly addressed. It’s her goal to help equip them with the tools to step outside of survival mode, disengage from autopilot, and prevent and treat behavioral health issues.
Although she was met with initial challenges and some skepticism from her audience, Kim says she has finetuned her approach so she can break down the walls they’ve put up and help them get the help they deserve. The local community, including Major Darren Ivey of the Kansas City Police Department, has also offered its support to Pause Academy’s mission. In fact, Major Ivey is one of Kim’s instructors on the Pause First team.
Kim hopes to continue to “turn up the volume of the conversation” and help empower frontline workers with access to behavioral health tools and services. She has grown her team at Pause First and teaches mindfulness courses in the greater Kansas City area and across the country. She also published a book called Mindfulness for Warriors: Empowering First Responders to Reduce Stress and Build Resilience.
Listen to the full episode below.
Lauren Lucht – University of Kansas Health System & Whitney Logan – The Battle Within| Mindful by Blue KC Special Series Part 5
The next episode in our series highlights behavioral health implications for medical workers who are fighting on the front lines of the pandemic. Joel Goldberg welcomed psychotherapists Lauren Lucht, MA, LCP, and Whitney Logan and Blue KC behavioral health specialist Kristin Gernon for an important discussion about the mental health crisis that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic – particularly as it relates to healthcare workers.
Lauren, who is Executive Director of Mental and Behavioral Health for the University of Kansas Health System, says that it takes a village to make sure healthcare workers on the front lines feel supported as they grapple with this unprecedented time. They feel the same baseline stress and anxiety all of us have felt during the pandemic, compounded by their responsibility to the community.
In addition to their typical job responsibilities, which are now anything but normal, many healthcare workers also act as surrogate family members to patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and other illnesses because strict isolation policies prevent patients’ families and friends from offering support in person. These same healthcare workers then go home to their own families and have to cope with online learning, feeding their children and being sources of support to friends and neighbors.
Healthcare workers also aren’t receiving the same support as at the beginning of the pandemic. In many cities, the rounds of applause from buildings, free or discounted meals, and overall gratefulness from the community have waned as the pandemic has become part of our “new normal.”
“It takes a village to make sure everyone feels supported,” Lauren said. Her goal is to offer that support through behavioral health resources.
Kristin Gernon agreed, noting that this pandemic is unprecedented – and our response will have to be too, in terms of scope, depth and specificity, to ensure healthcare workers have the help they need.
According to Whitney Logan, The Battle Within started the Frontline Therapy Network with these healthcare professionals in mind. The hospital feels like a warzone at all times, Whitney said, and it can be exceedingly difficult for nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers to process what they are experiencing.
It’s been heartbreaking to listen to their perspectives on what’s happening around them, Whitney said. These healthcare workers may not feel like they can allow themselves to feel everything they have experienced, and instead feel the need to remain resilient and emotionally available because there is still work to be done.
Frontline workers’ behavioral health needs will persist long after the pandemic is over. Although the promise of widespread vaccine distribution acts as a “light at the end of the tunnel,” we still have a while to go before that is a reality, Lauren said. Healthcare teams are in “mission mode” now, and we need to make sure we are doing enough to support providers amid the inevitable emotional turmoil once the pandemic finally begins to wind down. That starts with expanding access to behavioral health resources for our frontline workers.
Listen to the full episode below.
Nathan Magers & Whitney Logan – The Battle Within and Ryan Maid – The Kansas City Royals | Mindful by Blue KC Special Series Part 6
The final episode of our special series with Joel Goldberg addresses mental health challenges in high-stress environments, with a focus on veterans.
Nathan Magers, a former Marine Corps infantryman and Iraq Veteran, and current Kansas City police officer, shared his own experience with listeners.
When Nathan returned from serving in Iraq, many of the people in his life thought he was experiencing a behavioral health crisis – but he remained firm that he was not. Instead of seeking treatment, he tried drugs and other vices to make the feelings of trauma stop, and nearly destroyed his family and himself in the process. Luckily, a friend of Nathan’s continually advocated for him to get professional help.
Following his own healing process, Nathan joined The Battle Within and helped to create The Revenant Journey, which centers around a 5-day retreat for veterans and first responders, whom the organization calls ‘warriors.’ The retreat offers a respite where warriors can come together and heal from their trauma while learning new skills to bring back to their lives and families for long-term healing success. The program is free of charge and uses evidence-based methods to help heal the warriors’ minds, bodies and souls.
“It can take such a long time for people to get help,” Whitney said. “Often, this population is conditioned and trained to believe that they are invulnerable and ‘correct’ if they are tough and can handle everything. This typically stands in the way of someone’s readiness to soften or take a compassionate stance or one of sensitivity toward themselves when they are suffering.”
For veterans and other frontline workers, according to Whitney, it can feel like an identity crisis to admit to themselves that they are not okay and are in need of help. Instead, such as in Nathan’s case, they will keep reaching for things to numb the pain rather than addressing their struggle head-on.
The Revenant Journey serves as a ‘hugely corrective experience,’ Whitney says, that allows the warriors to mourn together and begin to build back their lives with the support of one another.
Ryan Maid, now Director of Behavioral Science for the Kansas City Royals, served as a psychologist with the United States Navy for seven years.
Ryan says he experienced some of the same feelings Nathan did when he returned from his own tours overseas – particularly during what he called his ‘reintegration process’ from being in uniform to reassimilating into civilian life.
“One of the things that resonates with me more than anything is being part of a tribe,” Ryan said. “Our baseball players and veterans, myself included, perform better and are more likely to be vulnerable when we are with our tribes.”
Ryan says that as a veteran, it’s normal to feel that your ‘normal’ is different than everyone else’s, even if it seems dysfunctional to those who haven’t served.
This is where specialized treatment for veterans comes in, Whitney said. It’s important to not only address overt symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but to break down the ‘warrior’ complex that can prevent veterans from seeking behavioral healthcare. This treatment helps veterans give themselves permission to be vulnerable, which unlocks greater potential for healing.
Listen to the full episode below.
About Mindful by Blue KC
Almost two years ago, the Blue KC leadership team identified behavioral health as a focus area. When we examined member data, we discovered more than half of members had a behavioral health condition and less than half of those individuals were seeking treatment. This finding kickstarted an educational series on behavioral health and, more importantly, the development of a new behavioral health initiative. In mid-2020, amid the global pandemic, we launched a new and enhanced behavioral health program called Mindful by Blue KC. Mindful by Blue KC is readily accessible and available to members now. At its core, the offering is a commitment Blue KC has made to cover the health of the whole person.
There are many different aspects of Mindful by Blue KC including:
- Mindful Advocates – Mindful by Blue KC starts with Mindful Advocates, licensed behavioral health clinicians who are always just a call away and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Mindful Advocates are trained to match members to providers or services and guide care plans. They are a single point of contact for listening, navigating care, crisis management, benefits guidance, connecting and follow-ups.
- Online Therapy – Virtual care isn’t just for your physical wellbeing. Through Mindful by Blue KC, our members now have access to text or scheduled live chats as well as phone and video sessions. This is intended for short-term therapy needs and is offered as part of the member’s Well-Being Resources which includes three sessions, at no cost, to help with conditions such as depression, anxiety and stress. Following these sessions, you can work with a Mindful Advocate to identify a more permanent resource using your Blue KC coverage.
- Self-Guided Tools – Interactive and individually tailored program designed to help members improve and maintain overall well-being and resilience while supporting the physical and spiritual aspects of whole-person health.
- Expedited Access Network: If you are in crisis, the network provides support to find a behavioral health appointment in the earliest window possible. Reach a Mindful Advocate at the Expedited Access Network by calling 833-302-MIND (6463) or by calling the behavioral health number on the back of your card.
To learn more and get started, visit MindfulBlueKC.com. For additional resources related to suicide prevention and awareness, please visit our dedicated page on our website.
If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line. Mindful Advocates are also available 24/7 to connect Blue KC members to the resources they need.