Mental health services available to help with added pandemic stresses

By Bobby Bordelon

An increase in crisis calls, domestic violence calls, and requests for harm reduction services throughout the Greenbrier Valley has raised an alarm within several of the organizations working with the Greater Greenbrier COVID Task Force. For locals experiencing symptoms of mental illness, substance abuse, and many other possible risk factors, as a result of the extended pandemic, help is available locally.

“So many of the risk factors [for mental health issues and suicide] are being expanded by

COVID-19 – isolation, a feeling of not being in control,” explained Marcie Vaughan, president

and CEO of Seneca Health Services.

The crisis call line for Seneca Health Service has seen a significantly increased volume of calls, up to 27 hours in September from the 11 hours in April. The 140 percent increase has shown the staff an uptick in mental health issues, such as depression, fear, hopelessness, and increase risk for substance abuse.

“There is help available 24/7 in the Greenbrier County area,” Vaughan said. “Seneca Health Services operates a crisis line that is accessed by calling the regular office number. They have trained individuals who will complete an assessment and make treatment recommendations to individuals who are experiencing a crisis.”

For those in need of help, the crisis line can be reached at 304-497-0500.

In a press release from the Greater Greenbrier COVID-19 Task Force, the Greenbrier County 911 Center and the Family Refuge Center (FRC) also report an increase in domestic violence calls during COVID. Advocates at the Refuge Center remind the community that domestic violence survivors are twice as likely to attempt suicide.

“We want citizens to be aware of that fact so they can check in on survivors,” said FRC Interim co-director Nicole Limerez. “They are particularly vulnerable right now and need our support.”

“We have issues of domestic violence and child abuse where those are victims of violence or trauma in those individuals predisposed to suicide,” Vaughan said.

The Greenbrier County Health Department similarly reports a drastic increase in demand for harm reduction services since the pandemic began. Between the pandemic and the strife frequently found on social media around the election, media consumption can presently lead to a sense of burn out.

“Both COVID and the election are very emotionally charged,” Vaughan said. “It’s almost like a heightened state of anxiety for individuals because they’re attached to what their own personal belief is. The key is moderation, limit the amount of time that is engaged in those activities and having that off switch so they can engage in healthier behaviors, like exercise or sleep.”

Taking care of yourself can mean many things to many individuals, but the mixing of work and home life is common to many right now, including Greenbrier County students, has proven to be a challenge.

“We have individuals who are working from home,” Vaughan said. “That in of itself brings some challenges because you lose that social connectiveness. You don’t operate on a set schedule.

Either you’re working more than you should or it’s a constant change in what you’re doing and when, and we don’t pay attention to our physical appearance. When you’re not getting up to go to work you might not be taking care of your personal hygiene. It might be a comfortable things but it might not be the best for us emotionally. It’s nice for a day or two but when you’re doing it all the time, it can be a real problem.”

Even when someone reconnects with the people around them, exercise, eat better, have a routine, and following many of the recommendations for taking care of themselves, they could still find themselves experiencing mental health symptoms – this is not something to be embarrassed by, but something to embrace and find help for.

“If they find that the feelings and symptoms are remaining for weeks at a time, engage in some form of treatment,” Vaughan emphasized. “Some of the best protective factors for your mental health are interacting with other people, that feeling of being connected.”

Vaughan also explained that many perceived barriers to entry are not as insurmountable as they might seem, including financial and technological barrier.

“At Seneca Health we have a very generous sliding fee scale. We’re able to serve pretty much anyone regardless of their ability to pay. … They can call the office number and they will do a financial assessment. … Many are able to receive care at a 100 percent discount. That would include counseling and visits with a medical provider.”

Those worried about in-person care COVID spread or potential technology issues with telehealth also don’t need to worry. Recently, West Virginia’s Bureau of Medical Services lifted restrictions on telehealth therapy, allowing therapists and patients to communicate over the phone without a video component.

“That has been a huge help for individuals who are not comfortable coming out to the clinic,” Vaughan explained. “They can have a phone conversation with their provider, whether that’s with a medical provider that’s monitoring medications or their therapists. That has been very much appreciated.”

The Greater Greenbrier COVID Task Force has put together a resource guide for those in need as a result of the pandemic. The guide can be found at www.RoncevertePres.org or via Facebook on the pages of Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe or Senator Stephen Baldwin. If you would like a hard copy or an e-copy, please send a request to stephen.h.baldwin@gmail.com. It contains information related to available help with substance abuse, food, health care, and more.

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