Clark County residents seek mental health services as pandemic stretches on

More Clark County residents have sought out mental health services since the COVID-19 began last year, according to the county’s mental health board.

Greta Mayer, CEO of the Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties, said the board has seen an “upswing” of people asking for mental health resources as the pandemic has stretched on.

“I think looking at, sometimes people think ‘oh, well I’ll just bounce right back to my normal, pre-pandemic, it’s springtime, things will get better,’ but then it doesn’t and people are left with ‘why don’t I feel better?’,” Mayer said.

With the influx of calls, specifically from front-line workers, last July, the board launched the Responder Resilience Program, which helps connect front-line workers with mental health professionals trained to treat trauma and trauma-related symptoms.

“It’s immediate access for people who are just struggling and need to reach out for help,” Mayer said. “That service is answered 24/7.”

The program has received 34 requests from Clark County residents for “quick connections” to trauma-informed care. These requests have come from fire and EMS, law enforcement, educators and public health and health care employees.

Of the total amount of calls, roughly 13% are directly related to COVID.

“We expect this number to continue to grow,” Mayer said.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on national health issues, a nationwide survey found that during the pandemic about four in 10 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder.

Another KFF health tracking poll from July 2020 found that many adults were reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%) and worsening chronic conditions (12%) due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

Statewide issue

Thousands of Ohioans at home, in school and on the front lines have called into the state’s mental health resource hotline, which was created last year just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CareLine, 1-800-720-9616, fielded 6,579 calls from its inception on April 22, 2020, through April 30, 2021.

The COVID CareLine began April 22, 2020, staffed by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and in July it became the Ohio CareLine operated by community providers. The quick launch in the public health emergency took a lot of coming together from the technology, to the staff training, to advertising and awareness.

“So it was a heavy lift, but we brought it up fairly quickly,” Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said.

The threat of illness, isolation, job loss and more that came with the pandemic led to an increase in the need for mental health services, Criss said.

And some of the biggest barriers to mental health and addiction care are that people don’t know who to call or where to get help, they feel embarrassed or ashamed, or they’re not sure what the cost of care will be.

“So with this number, we’ve been able to really address that by just creating a single spot for people to go that’s highly visible, making it OK to not be OK and OK to ask for help,” Criss said.

Since the CareLines launch, health care workers have called, distressed students have called and people in economic crisis have called.

As the calls have rolled in, dispatchers noticed that a lot of people were just calling to talk to someone and be listened to, said Alexander Rulon, Talbert House director of community care.

Talbert House, based in Cincinnati, at first fielded calls from the whole state and then later shifted to only receiving calls from the 937 and 513 area.

“A lot of it has just been that warm feeling, if you will, of just being there for someone and listening to their story and empathizing with them. And more often than not, that’s gotten the caller what they needed,” Rulon said.

Many callers have been COVID front-line workers.

“We fielded so many calls from other professionals who have continued to stay employed, hospitals, emergency personnel, fire, police and from professionals in that line of work who are calling our line just to vent at the end of their day, because of what they’ve experienced through the pandemic,” Rulon said.

Mayer said the same can be said for Clark County.

“You know, these folks on the frontline, they’re doing this work because that’s their calling, that’s what they have a passion for. It’s what they believe in, and by virtue of their professions, they are helpers,” Mayer said. “They want to care for other people, especially when people are at their worse, so it can be difficult for them to seek help sometimes, but when they do sometimes they just need someone to hear them and understand.”

According to data, about half of those who called the CareLine were provided information and resource. Around a third received a brief intervention. About 10% were referred to a behavioral health agency and 7.5% were referred elsewhere.

Caller demographics aren’t clear. About six in 10 callers didn’t give their race or ethnicity, four in 10 didn’t give their age and a little over one in 10 didn’t give their gender.

Amanda Krodel, information and referral coordinator with CareLine, said she took a call from a woman who thought she was going to have to give up her four-year-old because she couldn’t care for her.

Krodel was able to get her connected with immediate hospital care and resource help.

“I got her to the hospital, and which is a very rare thing to happen,” Krodel said. “She called the next day to thank me.”

Facts & Figures:

34: Requests from Clark County residents to the Mental Health Recovery Board for trauma-informed care over the last year.

13: Percentage of those calls that have to do with COVID-19

6,579: Calls made to Ohio’s CareLine since April 30. The CareLine is the state’s mental health resource hotline, which was created just after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where to get help

If you are in crisis and need to speak to a mental health professor, you can contact:

  • Mental Health Services: 937-399-9500
  • Mental Health Recovery Board’s warmline number for peer support services: 937-662-9080
  • Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services COVID CareLine: 1-800-720-9616
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK