While the pandemic has sharpened our individual focus on our physical health, the crisis within the crisis—the pandemic and calls for social and racial justice amid a recent election—have exacerbated the mental health and wellbeing of many. To put it into perspective, research has indicated that loneliness and extended social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.
Recognizing the impact of such challenging circumstances on mental health and wellbeing, Los Angeles County recently launched the Public Partnership Wellbeing Line for its employees to offer support, information, and connection to resources as needed—and of course, confidentially to maintain the privacy of callers. Individuals seeking help will be connected to a mental health and wellbeing helpline specialist who is there to offer support through the most difficult of moments.
Meet Alejandra Vargas, 2nd-Year UCLA MSW Intern, one of the helpline specialists who have been serving the wellness needs of the employees of Los Angeles County.
Alejandra has been working in the mental health field for 7 years. Her introduction to mental health began as she was completing her bachelor’s degree in Latin American/Latinx Studies. But it wasn’t until she stepped into her role managing a suicide prevention hotline in California’s Central Coast, Alejandra knew she found her niche.
“A typical day on the Public Partnership Wellbeing Line is one where I am prepared to both provide emotional support and critical resources to LA County employee community members,” said Alejandra. “During calls, I lean in and listen attentively to what our callers are sharing. I can’t rely on body language and movement to connect, so creatively connecting with callers through active listening while being able to hold their experience in a non-judgmental but supportive way is my typical goal.”
Alejandra participates in this space of support and care to civil servants and other providers seeking to build resiliency and bear witness to much of the hurt that is happening behind closed doors, especially since so many are confined to their homes more than ever before. In bringing resources and relief to callers, the wellbeing helpline specialists are healing and continuing to build community under these isolating circumstances.
Alejandra’s support is timely and necessary as Angelenos head into a holiday season under the constraints of the pandemic that limit or prevent gatherings entirely in an effort to curb the pandemic’s spread in the winter months.
Her selflessness to help others is deeply heartfelt and comes from a place of true empathy, as Alejandra has faced her own trials. “As a cancer survivor, being of service in this moment of uncertainty is a personally meaningful undertaking. I have had to sit in the unknown since my diagnosis, so it is a place I know well. And while these are different circumstances, it is a familiar feeling and my source of resiliency that I can pass along to others who I now share this space with,” she said.
When faced with crisis, continued connection from dedicated staff like Alejandra is not only improving lives—it’s saving them. These impactful conversations are integral to helping individuals cope with incredibly sudden, drastic change.
“There is a moment in a call—that very initial moment where sometimes a person is hesitant to really open up—and when you provide that person with the space where they can be vulnerable, it shifts. I recognize that vulnerability as a step and action towards courage, and it’s in every single call. There’s a little bit of hesitancy and then they open up. It’s in that one key moment where I know that I’ve provided, or started to provide, that space where a person can tear down those walls and tear down the stigma for themselves just by providing this space,” says Alejandra in describing what drives her to help callers in need.
The Second District would like to extend special thanks and recognition to Alejandra Vargas and all who support the wellbeing helpline in this unprecedented moment of heightened stress.