PSU Use Rises as Union Responds to Members’ Needs

By DIANE S. WILLIAMS

When a DC 37 member lost multiple family members and coworkers to COVID-19, she was deeply affected by their sudden deaths. She developed paralyzing anxiety and could not leave her home for fear of contracting the coronavirus.
Another member struggled with substance misuse that put his job at risk, even as he helped fellow New Yorkers in crisis.
These two DC 37 members—and hundreds more—received help and coping techniques from DC 37’s Personal Services Unit.

“During the pandemic, there has been an enormous amount of anxiety, grief, and depression among our members, especially those who are essential workers,” said Stephanie Kleinberg, PSU Director. “People are understandably grieving the loss of family members, friends, and coworkers to COVID. Also, the workplace is a community that people miss when working from home.”

In 2020, the coronavirus outbreak erupted and disrupted people’s lives. New York City became the epicenter with more than one million COVID-19 cases and more than 33,000 deaths from the deadly virus to date.

People are mourning the loss of their pre-pandemic lifestyles. They are adjusting to a new normal of facemasks and limited in-person contact. Essential employees are working longer and harder. The pandemic also brings isolation and stress that spiked the number of cases of depression, domestic abuse, and substance misuse.

To support union members, PSU’s team of licensed Social Workers provides a wide range of services that help them develop coping skills in these challenging times.

The DC 37 Communications Department emailed members with PSU information and coping techniques. Kleinberg said, “The response was tremendous. We reached out to members and gave them another connection to the union.”
Referrals from DC 37 social media nearly matched the number of referrals from coworkers. From 2019 to 2020, PSU saw a 50% increase in the number of clients serviced.

“After the COVID shutdown, we started offering tele-therapy and the members love it,” Kleinberg said. “Members call during their lunch hour. They don’t have to travel to Water Street or arrange for child care. Their privacy and confidentiality are not breached.”

In some cases, PSU Social Workers coordinated with local presidents and reps to help members burned out of their homes find shelter, face food insecurities, address their issues in treatment, or when necessary, obtain medical leaves of absence.

In more than a few cases, the intervention and professional therapy PSU Social Workers provide save and protect members’ jobs, and their hard-earned benefits and pensions.

“Tele-therapy is a very positive addition to the services PSU Social Workers provide to help members regain their mental balance, return to their jobs, and re-engage with their communities,” Kleinberg said.

COPING SKILLS

  • Pay attention to your thoughts as they influence your feelings and behavior. Challenge negative thoughts and replace them with ones that are more realistic and provide a balanced perspective.
  • Deep breathing, meditation, grounding techniques, imagery and journaling can provide release.
  • Recognize the challenges that you have already overcome this past year; remind yourself of your strengths and resilience.
  • Be aware of your limits and set reasonable, realistic self-expectations.
  • Learn to assert yourself and say no in a respectful manner.
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