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Mental health crisis calls remain steady
Gaston Gazette - 4/3/2020
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Despite challenges posed to the medical system by COVID-19, mental health professionals say access to local treatment remains strong.
The number of people seeking crisis treatment has stayed consistent since the implementation of recommended, and later mandated, "stay at home" orders by county and state officials to slow the spread of COVID-19, said Lynne Grey, department director for Partners Behavioral Healthcare's mental health and substance use care coordination unit.
She said providers have largely made the switch to treating patients via telemedicine, using phone calls or videoconferencing tools. Partners has yet to see an increase in local emergency department use for patients experiencing a mental health crisis, she said.
However, the longer "stay-at-home" orders remain in place, stress on both patients and providers could increase.
"We haven't seen that large increase in emergency department use for behavioral health or crisis calls," Grey said. "We expect that will change."
If you're feeling stressed, Roberta Borden Wilson, a psychotherapist and counselor at Grace Christian Counseling, said it's not just you.
"Everyone, in every age range, is feeling this in different ways," Wilson said.
Do I have to worry about getting sick or losing someone I love? What's going to happen to my job and will I have to worry about paying my bills? How am I going to make sure my kids are taken care of if I, or they, get sick?
"Right now there aren't a lot of great answers to these," Wilson said. "Combined with the isolation many people are feeling because they are tucked away at home and might not be able to take advantage of the things they once used to distract themselves and people will find their own ways to deal with this. For some, those will be productive ways and unproductive for others."
The American Psychiatric Association said Americans this week are experiencing a collective sense of loss: the way their life once was, the loss of a sense of safety or financial security.
"There's uncertainty over how long this is going to go on and all of that just becomes a breeding ground for fear and anxiety," Wilson said. "I think you're going to see things you've never seen before."
Children could suffer in different ways than adults, Grey said.
"This is me talking from my experience and my opinion, but we're looking closely at children," Grey said. "Many in therapeutic foster care placements who receive in-home services are being served telephonically. We believe that sustained level of stress may come to a head, so we're trying to open up space for child crisis services."
Both Wilson and Grey said there are no quick fixes.
"Right now people are taking this week by week," Grey said. "But with this 30-day order, I think it's going to sink in that this is the new normal for now and we're going to see an increase in crisis calls."
That means agencies and providers are monitoring data and attempting to see where and why shifts in demand are occurring, which Grey said she hopes will allow providers time to adapt.
It will also be important to aid Gaston County's homeless population because shelter's are reducing capacity, Grey said.
"We are going to reach a point where we are going to need to have places for our homeless populations where they can be tested and, if necessary, isolated or treated," Grey said. "The weather is nice but it's going to get hot soon. We're looking at ways to expand places which are not being used right now and we're trying to manage that to keep that population safe."
Reach Adam Orr at 704-869-1828 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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