A Kew Gardens resident has been recognized by the city for her commitment to bring mental health support services to New Yorkers in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Orkideh Yazhari, a member of the Mental Health Service Corps at NYC Health + Hospitals/Queens in Jamaica, was honored as a “Mental Health Hero” by the Mayor’s Office of ThriveNYC, which works with 12 city agencies and hundreds of community partners to close critical gaps in mental health care and promote mental health for all New Yorkers.
The agency recently launched a new series that celebrates social workers, therapists, and others who have implemented programs across the city and have gone above and beyond to deliver mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s an honor for Yazhari, who is based in the Queens Hospital Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program or Psychiatric Emergency Room, to serve those in need of mental health through Thrive, which assists those who have experienced trauma in their lives and are underserved.
“Thankfully, we at Queens Hospital got through the difficult time during the height of COVID and were able to provide some psychiatric services to the wider Queens population,” Yazhari said.
Yazhari started serving with the Mental Health Service Corps about two years ago as a behavioral social worker in a psychiatric emergency department.
“As an immigrant who was given the opportunity to start a new life, receiving the support after leaving an oppressive country and trauma of war, and receiving a higher education, I chose the social work profession to serve and give back to the community who made it all possible for me,” Yazhari said.
Yazhari sometimes covers for the Queens Hospital Mobile Crisis Team, which responds to urgent mental health needs, often serving people in their homes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many New Yorkers in need of urgent psychiatric care were diverted to Queens Hospital.
“Our Psychiatric Emergency Room was really busy in a way that we never experienced before,” Yazhari said.
After becoming sick with the virus, Yazhari returned to work right away after her recovery period in order to ensure Queens Hospital had sufficient coverage. She volunteered to stay longer hours and cover different shifts at times when the hospital was short on staff.
Her responsibilities at the hospital varied each day, and Yazhari adapted to different workflows and responsibilities with a grace and poise that impressed her colleagues. With many hospital workers afraid of becoming infected themselves, Yazhari became a constant source of reassurance and support.
“She really was able to be the calming voice in the room and brought people’s anxiety levels down,” said Melanie Sanchez, director of Mental Health Service Corps.
Yazhari is among the first group of five mental health heroes who are being celebrated for their work. For the next few months, NYCThrive will be honoring five heroes every week.
“For some, this meant offering grief counseling to students and families. For others, it meant implementing new safety protocols when responding to mental health crises in people’s homes,” the agency said on its website. “We are grateful to these heroes for showing commitment and courage during a time of great uncertainty and profound mental health needs in our city.