Mental Health Needs Growing During Coronavirus Pandemic

By: Jamie Leary

Originally appeared on CBS4

DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado hospitals have been ready for a second wave of critical coronavirus patients for months. While this has been the primary focus of health care needs, there’s another surge the industry is concerned about: mental health.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of speculation that this current coronavirus pandemic might be followed by a second wave, which is a mental health pandemic associated with prolonged isolation as well as with the various impacts on our economy that this is having,” said Vincent Atchity, President and CEO of Mental Health Colorado.

He says it’s created a whole new wave of people in need and a growing stress on service providers.

“Calls to the Colorado Crisis Service line are significantly higher this last month than they were this time last year, for example. So there’s a volume of demand that has not been seen before we are also expecting the demand to grow in the coming months,” he said.

Mental Health Colorado has a long list of free resources for mental health assistance including telehealth.

“The most significant change amongst the service providers is how quickly they put telehealth in place to extend care to people without having them come in personally, and that’s something we’ve been hoping to see happen for years, and it basically happened overnight.”

But it’s not enough to ease the burden, and Atchity says, if it’s pandemic-related stress, there are ways to try and manage our own health.

“This notion of managing your own mental health came about because our mental health systems of care have been strained beyond capacity in the past, before the pandemic by the needs of vulnerable populations for whom it’s been very challenging to access necessary care.”

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One way to do that? Don’t think of the restrictions as social distancing.

“I think we settled so quickly on calling what we’re doing social distancing when it’s the opposite of what we need. We need social closeness and mutual support. We need physical distancing.”

He says it’s important to form a support network.

“Just making a habit of having those check-in conversations with people and giving them the same opportunity. There’s so much that we can do to support each other’s mental health just by listening. You know we don’t have to solve problems.”

Most importantly, try not to focus on the future or the past.

“In terms of managing your own mental health, a lot of our stress and anxiety come from when we think about the past or we think about the future. The truth about the matter is, that we’re right here, right now in the present, and when we just stay focused on the present, all of it is a whole lot easier to manage because the present has immediate demands. We can meet the immediate demands of the present… try and do the things that are within your scope of control, fold the laundry, do the dishes get the next meal ready, call a friend,” he said.

While Atchity himself tries to focus on the present, he is also thinking about the future of mental health care and the need for more resources.

“A lot of our work is focused on policy work, moving pieces of legislation through the capitol during the legislative session and obviously the legislative session has been interrupted and we’re also facing the revenue shortfalls for the state which means that many of the initiatives that we’ve been been supporting that might have had a fiscal note attached to them are in jeopardy now.”

He hopes that state leaders see the growing need for more resources like this.

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“As the state needs to look for places to make cuts, cutting things that are associated with access to healthcare, especially to our most vulnerable populations, those may be tempting places to make cuts but those are not places to make cuts that are going to hurt us very deeply,” he continued.

“The silver lining to this, from the mental health advocates perspective, is that more people than ever realize what we’ve been trying to persuade people for years and that is — physical health and mental health, these are not separate things they’re tied together. It’s also true that the health of our economy and the health of our environment and the health of our community are ties to the health that we have as individuals. There’s no separation there and we’re better poised than ever to understand that.”

For more information on resources offered by Mental Health Colorado, click here.

If you need to talk to someone immediately, there are counselors standing by 24/7 on the Colorado Crisis Line, waiting to help.