June 10, 2020

From Jonathan Hankins, QMHA, Suicide Rapid Response Coordinator at Lines for Life

When Fred Rogers was a child and he would see scary things in the news, his mother would tell him, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

We at Lines for Life have brainstormed strategies since the start of the year to promote mental wellness among healthcare providers, social workers, and more throughout Oregon. Based on our collective experiences of serving our communities, we recognize helpers often put the needs of others before our own. Often, we encourage our clients and communities to utilize help-seeking behaviors, while finding it incredibly difficult to ask for and receive help ourselves. As for me, I recognize times I’ve forgotten to put my own oxygen mask on first.

In 2015 I went through a painful divorce following a traumatic life event. I was devastated. My wife of 10 years was an emergency room nurse and I was a community-based family support specialist. So here we were, two people burning the candle at both ends to help the hurting in our community, but we couldn’t heal our own. I remember thinking about the dark irony of the situation. I became a broken person helping other broken people pick up their own pieces while not knowing what to do with my own. Grappling with the implications of this kind of revelation has required a raw and vulnerable path of healing. As a helper, my experiences have taught me that helping others find healing can sometimes be easier than the work of personal healing.

Put Your Oxygen Mask on First

We know we can be more effective in assisting others when we put our own oxygen mask on first. This principle has often been a struggle for me to remember and I’m finding this to be a common topic among other helpers. We are told we can better contribute to the physical and mental health of others when we are physically and mentally healthy ourselves. We know there can be pressure within systems of care to maintain a certain level of professionalism among our clients and peers. We also know this can develop into a stigma which says, “I need to be strong,” “I don’t need help,” or “I’m fine.” I like to think that even superheroes need a little help.

Current events facing our communities locally and globally call helpers to navigate, both personally and professionally, through many uncertainties of housing, employment, food security, along with questions about current events and future outcomes. In our organization, we have been working intentionally to be mindful in implementing trauma-informed practices internally and externally. We are also aware of the needs and strengths in our communities throughout our state and are leaning in together to contribute the resources we have thoughtfully and responsively.

Oregon Helpers

One of the ways we have done this is by opening a virtual wellness room for Oregon Helpers in rapid response to COVID-19. The virtual wellness rooms are offered 3 times a week, for 30-minute gatherings facilitated by a peer, and are provided for workers in healthcare and behavioral healthcare communities, as well as other essential workers who could use the space to exhale. Each wellness call is intentionally facilitated by a peer. Thus far, these times have offered guided meditations, grounding exercises, poetry sharing, and timely conversations about what is coming up for participants and how providers can support each other. In addition to creating space and being peer-supported, participants have also engaged in mutual aid and resource sharing. We have found something beautiful during our times together as a collective of community builders.

Some participants have shared about their experience in Oregon Helpers virtual wellness rooms:

“Oh Jesus . . . I cried the first two meetings I attended—just as a release, I don’t know why . . . I got over it and started feeling normal, but now I’m crying again. Just sending love to you guys.”

“This has been the one thing I look forward to in my work day.”

We at Lines for Life want to express our gratitude for all the work you do to keep our communities safe and well. Especially for such a time as this, we are offering this space for helpers to exchange stories of hope and areas of need.  We want to hear about issues coming up for you personally and explore how we can cheer one another on to continue the good work you are already doing. 

When finding a healthy work-life balance can already be a daily challenge, we want to quell compassion fatigue and burnout. In times like these, helpers continue to step up. We want you to know we’re with you, and we’re here to support your wellbeing.

If you would like to participate in any of our Oregon Helpers Virtual Wellness check-ins, we meet at 12:30 M-F for Wellness Drop In Rooms, at this Zoom meeting link: https://zoom.us/j/95926339963


Jonathan Hankins, QMHA, Suicide Rapid Response Coordinator at Lines for Line