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Penn Medicine Creates Innovative Program Geared At Providing Mental Support For Frontline Workers During Pandemic, Unrest

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- There's an innovative, new way to help health care workers on the front lines with mental health issues as they treat patients with COVID-19 during these turbulent times. Health care workers everywhere are suffering from a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression.

Experts say, like everyone else, they're also worried about the economy and racial strife.

Now, a new kind of digital therapy is available at Penn Medicine.

Being on the front lines in a hospital during a pandemic can be traumatic. Research shows that more than two-thirds of health care workers will experience psychiatric symptoms.

"We're really in unprecedented times," said Dr. Cecilia Livesey, Chief of Integrated Psychiatric Services at Penn Medicine.

Dr. Livesey created COBALT, a digital mental health support platform for the staff at Penn.

"It's about proactively identifying people who are at risk and connecting them as quickly as possible to that care," she said. "So if someone is experiencing post-traumatic stress, for example, there are evidence-based treatments that are specific to that."

There are three types of support -- workshops, group sessions and one-on-one intervention.

"And one thing we're really proud of is that we've actually had 50 employees who indicated thoughts of self-harm on the platform and we've connected them with care and so being able to, in a sense, save those lives has been really incredibly meaningful," Dr. Livesey said.

They've provided more than 8,000 sessions for 5,000 individuals, where they are addressing not just the difficulty of caring for COVID-19 patients but also issues related to the recent civil unrest.

"We did create groups around conversations around race and racism that you know immediately were full because I think everyone from very different backgrounds really wanted to make sure we're having active conversations about this and taking steps to address the issues," said Dr. Livesey.

For now, COBALT is only available to Penn Medicine employees. But they are hoping to expand it in the future.

Experts say it's important for everyone to take care of themselves emotionally during these difficult days.

It's important to stay connected to family and friends even if it's from a distance and carve out time for self-care.

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