By Emily Thornton

For people experiencing loss, grief or just plain stress due to the ongoing public health pandemic, a team of about 10 American Red Cross volunteers from the Northwest Region is offering virtual courses designed to ease the pain.

It’s psychological assistance for individuals, families, friends and the community,” said Diane Hermanson, Disaster Mental Health Lead for the Northwest Region. “It provides ways people can support someone else or help find resiliency… thus minimizing stress.”

The group and their work with local community members isn’t directly tied to but complements a national effort to support individuals managing the impacts of COVID-19. The American Red Cross Virtual Family Assistance Center launched in May and provides connections to an array of resources including funeral information, spiritual care and veteran’s assistance in addition to free, online classes.

“Coping in Today’s COVID-19 World” and “Psychological First Aid and Resiliency” were adapted from pre-existing nationally offered courses and are now geared for those suffering from COVID-19-related issues.

Hermanson said the mid-May launch of the Virtual Assistance Center generated plenty of opportunities for people wishing to talk or connect to local counselors, so her team decided to provide classes. The teaching team includes a Spanish-speaking worker in Puerto Rico, and a Vietnamese-speaker in San Jose for those who need interpretation.

But are people really helped via the web with psychological issues? Do they need an in-person class or session to be successful? Hermanson said people so far realize those in-person exchanges just aren’t possible.

“The instructors work to get everyone involved, so it’s interactive,” Hermanson said. “A few of the teachers start by asking students about their stress, then there’s a conversation around that. The materials presented naturally encourage a discussion about things on people’s minds.”

Dan Mosely, a psychologist and volunteer instructor for the team and the King County Red Cross disaster mental health manager, encourages people try to connect virtually. Support networks, even remote ones, are important for self-care.

One of the creative solutions to this and other stressors, he said, was a family who made it a point to have “nothing time.” He said the parents and children got together in the living room, with everything turned off, even the lights sometimes and did nothing. It was a way to connect, he said, and has gotten to the point where the teens asked their folks when they could have “nothing time.”

Also included in the courses are scenarios in which students often role play. Imagine a friend is in need, but you’re unable to visit. “What can you offer them?” Hermanson asked.

Hypothetical thinking brings out people’s true feelings. “These conversations stir up things inside us and we have to work on managing our own emotions,” she said.

Anyone may learn more and sign up for classes held in the Northwest Region by emailing their name, email address and phone number to To learn more about the national program, visit the American Red Cross Virtual Family Assistance Center.

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