The Behavioral Health Bridge, a Sanford/University of North Dakota collaboration, is a series of online modules aimed at helping individuals experiencing common behavioral health conditions related to COVID-19 and promoting behavioral health treatment to address the current needs of people in the community.

The service is meant to offer scientific and clinically valid information – collected by the partnership team – to members of the community, giving them reliable tips and resources for managing behavioral health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Resources and modules will be added as the partnership continues to grow.Behavioral Health Bridge

As the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States in March, Dr. Stephen Wonderlich and Dr. Andrew McLean, who are friends and colleagues in Fargo and experts in behavioral health, began to discuss the potential long-term impact of COVID-19. Wonderlich and McLean then contacted their colleague Thomasine Heitkamp in the University of North Dakota – College of Nursing and Professional Disciplines because of her expertise in technological strategies to enhance mental health. That led to the Behavioral Health Bridge being formed by a team of 10 individuals with experience in psychiatry, bio-behavioral research, rural health, social work, behavioral health workforce development and behavioral health stigma. The collaboration also recognizes the growing need in rural communities with little or no access to behavioral health care services.

“We are excited to get this partnership with UND online and offer much needed behavioral health support to those who either don’t have proper access or are uncomfortable asking for help,” said Dr. Stephen Wonderlich, Vice President of Research at Sanford Health in Fargo. “We are in unprecedented times and our mental health is so important. It is our hope that having these resources readily available will help individuals who are suffering cope and recover.”

The online COVID-19 behavioral health modules include:

  • Behavioral Health: Impact of COVID-19
  • Stress & Coping: Coping with Stress, Worry, Grief, and Loss
  • Caring: Self-care and Caring for Loved Ones
  • Support & Treatment: Considerations, Need, and Behavioral Health Resources
  • Healthcare Providers: COVID-19 and Behavioral Health

“There is a great deal of need for mental health resources, information and treatment. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of ‘noise’ out there from various sources, and the Behavioral Health Bridge is one way to bring current and reliable information to the public and providers, including those in our rural communities. We hope this project will play a role in addressing the behavioral health needs of the region during the pandemic and beyond,” said Andrew McLean, Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences.

Thomasine Heitkamp, UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Nursing, leads UND’s Grand Challenges goal of helping rural communities through their unique health and social problems.  Heitkamp worked in partnership with Dr. Shawnda Schroeder at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences Center for Rural Health to launch this project. The Rural Health and Communities Grand Challenge is one of five goals put forth in UND’s 2017-2022 Strategic Plan. “There isn’t an effort more singularly focused on this Grand Challenge than our Behavioral Health Bridge collaboration,” said Heitkamp. “We are building partnerships, expanding workforce capacity and expanding access to behavioral healthcare at all levels. That is absolutely critical to our mission.”