Christy Rivers of Hannah’s House in Waitsfield/Waterbury reported an uptick in needs for mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for youth, though she said folks of all ages are experiencing heightened anxiety and isolation. John Caceres of Washington County Mental Health Services (WCMHS) said, “We’ve seen a surge [in demand] across the board.” He also noted an increase in substance use disorders during the pandemic.
A global study published in the Thieme Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice in fall 2020 found that, “The prevalence rate of all forms of depression, anxiety, stress, sleep problems and psychological distress in general population was found to be higher during COVID-19 pandemic.” It stated, “The increase in mental health problems in every society and age group in every nation has turned out to be another important global public health concern during this pandemic.” The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) reported 20% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2019. Early studies and anecdotal reports indicate those numbers are likely to spike as a result of the pandemic and have lasting effects.
NEED FOR MORE PROVIDERS
Hannah’s House has three therapists in The Valley/Waterbury and Rivers said there is a need for more providers. She reported that every practice is full and wait times are as high as 10 weeks. When people are struggling, waiting 10 weeks to get help is a long time. Hannah’s House is actively working to recruit more therapists to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Rivers said the therapists they work with have been working “double-time” and making sacrifices during the pandemic in order to help their patients. Caceres agreed that there are not enough providers and services available in the area. He said, “There’s just not enough resources right now…none of us across the state have enough staff to meet demand.” He said, during the pandemic, the waiting list for outpatient services has been as high as 130 people. WCMHS has launched targeted efforts to recruit more providers in the area.
Though Hannah’s House does refer people in mental health crises to WCMHS, Rivers said it’s common for people in crisis in the area to end up in the emergency room, which can be costly. She said emergency room staff have become better equipped to handle mental health crises as a result of the pandemic, though she said, “I don’t think that there’s a robust system in place for crisis care.” She did emphasize that the suicide hotline is a good resource for people in crisis. Caceres added WCMHS has a 24/7 crisis hotline. He also said there are many support groups available that can offer support until people are able to get one-on-one care. Turning Point in Barre is one such resource. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Vermont also has support groups, workshops and advocacy programs to support those living with mental health issues and their families.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT AVAILABLE
Financial support is available in The Valley for people who can’t pay for medications or other services. Rivers pointed to the Mad River Valley Community Fund and the Mad River Valley Interfaith Council as resources to help the uninsured or underinsured access the care they need.
Despite the increased need for mental health services, Rivers did note that “I have heard more open dialogue about emotions and mental health” as a result of the pandemic and that “people are more aware of anxiety and isolation. These things have really impacted people’s lives.” Discussing these issues is, she said, a step in the right direction to reduce stigma and get people the help they need. She said, “The most important thing is to talk and realize there’s no shame.”
Washington County Mental Health Services’ 24/7 crisis hotline is (802) 229-0591.