Increased roles and responsibilities, reduced human interaction, added anxiety and stress, and what seems like never-ending uncertainty. Life is hard right now.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) initiated additional services and resources late last month to ensure that Ohioans can continue to access any mental health and substance use treatment options that they may need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to restrictions on face-to-face contact, which is traditionally how most treatment services are delivered, OhioMHAS, in collaboration with Ohio Medicaid and the Governor’s Office, developed emergency rules to expand and enhance telehealth options.
These rules have relaxed regulations so that more people can receive treatment in their homes rather than traveling to substance use and mental health providers. Officials have explained that this change is helping reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for people receiving services, their families, and the behavioral health workforce which is an important part of the emergent response and community support to the pandemic.
Officials add that telehealth also helps local providers and agencies remain open and available to provide services to those in need. Many people have experienced an increased need for services, or are seeking treatment for the first time, due to additional stressors like anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness brought on by concerns about COVID-19.
According to Jen Richeson, MEd, LPC, System Development Coordinator at Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery in Canton, Ohio, there are so many things people are facing right now. Some of the additional stressors people may be experiencing include:
- School & daycare closures for children and the resulting remote learning and parents/caregiver role in education.
- College & University closures resulting in remote learning and loss of housing for some students.
- Workplace changes such as layoffs, closures, reduced hours, remote work, new technology or communication methods, or increased hours/decreased time off for essential workers.
- Spouses and partners being home more together or not being home at all due to essential work.
- Social isolation from friends, families, faith-based communities, cultural or ethnic communities, and recovery communities.
- Increased exposure to racism or discrimination.
- Inability to access family members who live in nursing homes or other communal facilities, or who have been hospitalized.
- Inability to access resources to meet family’s needs, i.e. food, internet, technology, transportation, health care.
- Concern about exposure to COVID-19 or concern about exposing others.
- Adapting to or accepting new expectations and safety standards when in the community.
- Loss in general i.e. income, routine, feeling in control, security (safety/health), death, rites of passage like graduation and other traditions, faith-based traditions.
Richeson noted that there is a need for additional supports to help individuals through this tough time. “Those most likely to need [help] include people who were working on their mental health or substance use recovery before COVID-19, those who are experiencing loss at this time (isolation, financial, death), and anyone who is experiencing additional financial hardship impacting housing, utilities, and food.” She also indicated that those who have been deemed ‘essential workers’ may find that they are in need of supportive services in addition to their families, to handle the trauma and increased workload during the current pandemic.
In addition to state resources, there are a number of local resources and services available to help.
In Stark County, all StarkMHAR funded provider agencies and services are still open and accepting new patients as are most of the private providers and agencies in the county. Richeson indicated that some may have different hours, which are posted on their respective websites. Individuals can also use their websites to determine if face-to-face appointments are available in addition to telehealth appointments.
Additionally, Coleman Crisis Services operates the county’s Mobile Response Program, in which local, licensed counselors are ready to come to you (safely) if an individual is having a hard time coping with stress and anxiety, feeling isolated, worried about substance use, or struggling with their kids as we all make this major adjustment. They can be reached any time 24/7/365 at 330-452-6000.
The Domestic Violence Project Hotline (330-453-SAFE/7233) is still running as well as is the Homeless Hotline (330-452-4363). Most local resources are functioning as usual, albeit with adjusted hours and boosted call-in options.
She added that besides enhancing telehealth for physical and mental health services, OhioMHAS, RecoveryOhio, and Governor DeWine have launched a toll-free Care Line (COVID Careline) to provide emotional support for Ohioans who are experiencing stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ohioans can call 1-800-720-9616 to connect with trained counselors for 24/7 support.
“There are many ways to practice healthy coping at this time,” added Richeson.
- Maintaining your physical health can also go a long way to boost mental health. So, things like eating well, exercising, sleeping enough, and getting fresh air.
- Virtual meetups with friends, family, and faith-based groups.
- Finding a new hobby.
- Staying busy or allowing yourself to just relax.
- Reading a book.
- Watching TV.
“If you don’t know what to do for yourself, allow yourself the grace to spend the time to learn what you need,” she added. And when you find that you need to talk to someone, don’t hesitate to reach out. “Reach out to people if you need help, reach out to see if others need help. Encourage your children to talk about how they’re feeling. Recognize when it’s time to cut back on social media usage for your mental health.”
A message to moms
Richeson noted a message specific to moms. “You’re doing great. Do the best you can to take care of yourself because a present healthy caregiver is what your children need. It doesn’t matter if the house is messy or sparkles like a palace,” she said. “And although eating a whole bag of chips (or sleeve of forgotten Thin Mints) isn’t necessarily the healthiest way to deal, it’s not the end of the world if it happens. Those of you who have suddenly found yourselves in the role of parent and teacher may be struggling to feel accomplishment and yet others may be realizing a new skill. Most of us will not be taking that trip, hosting that party, or attending that wedding or graduation ceremony. So, cherish the memories you’re making with your children. Consider that, for them, having you home right now might be better than any toy, any trip, or any other material item you could ever give them.”
For more information visit Stark County Mental Health and Addiction Recover online.