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Mental health awareness

New Berryhill director focused on supporting others

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Jennifer Pullen, executive director of UnityPoint Health - Berryhill Center, visits with Melissa Japenga, experience specialist lead, at Berryhill on Wednesday.

It’s OK not to be OK.

That’s one of the points Jennifer Pullen, executive director of UnityPoint Health — Berryhill Center, wants everyone to understand.

“It’s OK to call your friend and say you have anxiety or are worried,” said Pullen, a licensed therapist . “It’s OK to seek support from people.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And given all of the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, social, political and cultural issues along with other personal dilemmas, Pullen said it’s a good time to reflect and maybe think about the world differently.

“The effects on just being isolated has had an impact on people,” Pullen said. “A lot of folks really did take the warnings and stay at home measures seriously, but it has had an impact on mental health. We are seeing more people reaching out who may not have reached out before for help. I see that as helping to reduce the stigma in seeking mental health care.”

In 2020, Berryhill served a little more than 5,000 unduplicated patients from Webster County and surrounding areas.

“Most of us have someone we can count on,” Pullen said. “In the event somebody needs something more than that, that’s where Berryhill comes in. We are here to support people.”

Telehealth has been a valuable tool to continue to reach patients during the pandemic. And those services will still be available even as the pandemic tapers down.

“Using telehealth services during the pandemic to help them,” said Pullen, a native of Ogallala, Nebraska. ”They could sit on their couch and feel comfortable and get that service there. We still offer the telehealth. We have a lot of folks still not comfortable coming in and that’s OK. We can serve them in that capacity.”

And mental health isn’t just important for Berryhill clients. It’s also important for staff.

“It’s important to bring awareness to mental health,” Pullen said. “We hosted a walk on Wednesday last week. One of our therapists gave a talk about mindfulness and things you can do for coping. We took a nice walk right before the rain. That was fun to do together.

“UnityPoint has really worked hard through this last year in helping staff focus on taking care of themselves mentally and physically. I really feel cared about as a whole person.”

Journaling can also be beneficial for mental health.

“We have encouraged people to do journaling,” Pullen said. “I have a gratitude journal. Encouraging people to be active. Enjoying time outside, having flowers, planting a garden. Something like that. It’s nice to be out in nature and in the sun and feel good.”

Sometimes, she said, our minds get so busy we forget to take a moment for ourselves.

“We have a mindfulness minute and we read from a mindfulness page and share that with all of our staff every Wednesday,” Pullen said. “Just take a minute to focus on you and care about yourself.”

Pullen earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska. She holds a master’s degree in education community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

Pullen moved to Fort Dodge in 2007. She worked as clinical director at Rabiner Treatment Center for about six years. She started working at Berryhill in December of 2012. She started as a therapist before transitioning to the role of clinical manager. In March she was promoted to director. Pullen replaces Aaron McHone, who accepted the position of operations director for UnityPoint Health.

Although she said it sounds cliche, Pullen said she likes her work because she likes helping people.

“When I finished my undergraduate, I started working for the Boys and Girls Home in Nebraska,” Pullen said. “I loved working with kids. I had some great influences and role models working there.”

As director, Pullen works with senior leadership at the Trinity Regional Medical Center and the hospital board of directors to ensure Berryhill is following its vision.

“There’s a leadership team that leads the work and works with our fantastic staff,” she said. “It’s my job to support them and make sure they have what they need to perform at the highest level.

“I connect with other leaders at UnityPoint, work on policies and procedures. And then other community organizations. Here in Fort Dodge, it takes all of us to provide care. Making sure we can be supportive of one another.”

Anxiety and depression remain among the most common diagnoses.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is just one of many strategies used to help patients.

“If you are working with a therapist they might try cognitive behavioral therapy,” Pullen said. “That’s a chance for people to think about their thoughts, feelings, actions and behaviors. Think how they could respond differently or coping strategies they can use.”

The Berryhill staff is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Pullen is pleased that since she’s come on board, Berryhill has expanded its capacity to serve more people.

“When I started I was one of 4 1/2 therapists,” she said. “Today we have 12. Psych providers went from two when I started to eight. We have family medicine in our building. We have a lab. All of the growth in our outreach programs. It’s really important to us that no matter who comes here we can care for them. That we can support them in the capacity that they need it.”

One of the highlights of the profession is seeing others be successful or hearing about the success stories from patients.

“I enjoy seeing people be successful,” Pullen said. “I enjoy hearing the success stories where people feel better and hearing how good someone is doing, because they worked hard to do that with their therapist or physician. And I love working with the people. The people who work here do some amazing things and I am proud to work with them.”

She said sometimes patients don’t even feel worthy of coming in for help and they should.

“I would tell patients when I was seeing them individually, ‘I will be on your side until you decide to be on your side. We can get better together,'” Pullen recalled. “Sometimes they don’t feel they are worth coming in because that’s what depression can trick you into thinking is that you aren’t worth it. To partner with someone in that therapeutic relationship and watch them grow. They will say you did so much for me and I say you did the work. To help build somebody up that way, that motivates you to keep working with them and want to help the next person.”

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