Local organizations focusing on mental health as COVID takes its toll

Local organizations focusing on mental health as COVID takes its toll

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 By: Monte Whaley


The Centers for Disease Control in a new survey released earlier this month stated that almost 41% of respondents are fighting with mental-health challenges related to the pandemic.

Mental health agencies large and small are stretching themselves to help Longmont residents and others deal with the crushing mental anguish of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control in a new survey released earlier this month stated that almost 41% of respondents are fighting with mental-health challenges related to the pandemic.

The survey in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report says 31% of Americans experienced anxiety or depression since the coronavirus lockdown began, while 26% said they experienced trauma disorders like PTSD and 13% said they had begun or increased their level of substance abuse.

Almost 11% of respondents said they had considered suicide in the past month, according to the CDC.

Traci Jones hears the gloom in the voices of the people who take part in the small online meetings at Rise Phoenix Rise, a Longmont nonprofit started by Jones earlier this year.

Her discussion groups use rescue animals and a book called “Get Happy Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World” to help people deal with anxiety and other emotional problems.

“I had one woman in our book discussion group who is really struggling because of COVID,” Jones said. “She’s lost her income and she’s just struggling economically and she’s losing hope.”

Jones said she is not a licensed therapist and encourages people to seek professional help if they feel truly overwhelmed. She said she just wants to add a little brightness in the era of COVID-19 through the book club and her rescue animal group.

“We just want to support people in these times which are really, really tough,” she said.

Mental Health Partners — which provides mental health services for Boulder and Broomfield counties — is using a statewide grant to assemble a group of specialists to help people regain their footing during COVID-19, said Sara Reid, manager of grants and program evaluation.

Mental Health Partners is hiring 11 people to provide crisis support, similar to an effort in the aftermath of the 2013 floods that devastated portions of Boulder County, Reid said.

The new team will work in tandem with Mental Health Partners’ existing community health workers. Nearly all the help will be done online with the new crisis team working with specific groups, Reid said.

“We will have some that will work with children, families and school and the myriad of stresses that come with that,” Reid said.

Other team members will work with older people and the stress they deal with because of the isolation caused by the COVID-19 lockdown, she said.

One of the biggest challenges facing crisis counselors is the reluctance of many who don’t want to admit they are feeling depressed because of COVID-19, Reid said.

“If you there is a time to be stressed and come forward for help, that time is now,” she said. “We just want people to know we have the tools to help. The mask wearing, and all of these guidelines, they are not going to last forever. We have the tools to help you cope.”

Becky West supervises Mental Health Partners’ community health worker program in Boulder and Longmont. Its efforts span helping people find food and shelter and other services.

West said parents are especially under fire in trying to stay calm while scrambling to provide for their families.

“They are just trying to keep things together and they often internalize everything going on,” West said. “They are holding onto a lot of stress and that is not healthy.”

In a move to bolster crisis care services across the country, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in July helped introduce legislation that would direct states to utilize 5% of their Mental Health Block Grant funds for crisis care services. Once funding for the program is increased by 5% nationally, states can upgrade crisis care programs, Gardner said last month.

Gardner and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia ushered in the legislation.

“Colorado has tragically high sucide and drug overdose death rates prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result of the ongoing public health emergency, our state’s behavioral health needs have only increased,” Gardner said last month.

Jones said she had high hopes for Rise Phoenix Rise when she began piecing together the group earlier this year, hoping to go to various facilities like hospitals and boost morale with rescue animals.

COVID-19 then hit and her efforts ground to a halt. Jones said she recalibrated and decided to put programs online. Now, during a weekly online session, a handful of people get together to talk about how their pets have changed their lives for the better.

“We just adjusted,” Jones said. “Now, we want to be there in whatever manner to help people in any small way we can.”