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Mental Health Awareness Month comes at important time with pandemic

May 20, 2020 posted by Vidant Health News

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year the cause is even more important.

As COVID-19 spreads and creates uncertainty in all of our lives, mental health can easily deteriorate. People with pre-existing mental health or substance use struggles can experience more troubles than in the past and others who have no history with mental illness or substance use disorders may experience challenges for the first time.

Glenn Simpson, administrator for Behavioral Health at Vidant Health, said the most important thing people can do during this unprecedented time is reach out for help.

“People can have bad days and can feel down or become a little nervous, but we’re talking about actual diagnostic clinical depression and anxiety and when to seek help for that,” Simpson said. “It’s like anything, when they say if you’re feeling chest pains, what should you do? Call 9-1-1. It’s no different for behavioral health. You don’t have to wait until you know you are extremely depressed. It’s OK to ask as you’re experiencing changes.”

Simpson said substance use disorders are also likely to rise during this time of uncertainty.

While people are in quarantine and perhaps without work, it can create a situation in which people use drugs and alcohol more often.

“Usually when people use drugs, it’s to take away some level of pain, so you can think of it in a very real, physical sense,” Simpson said. “People reach out for drugs and alcohol to feel more comfortable. With people feeling less comfortable with COVID, we’re certainly anticipating that more people will either be misusing drugs or misusing more if they already have been misusing. We anticipate that there will be more folks suffering with substance use disorders.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper made a proclamation earlier this month to recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month. In the proclamation, Cooper highlighted that while mental illness can be successfully treated, 60 percent of adults nationwide do not receive the treatment needed.

Simpson said with the technology available and awareness around the toll a pandemic can take on mental health, there are many options for those seeking treatment.

Some of those options include:

  • Hope4NC Helpline: 1-855-587-3463
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Integrated Family Services Mobile Crisis Team: 1-866-437-1821 (available in select NC counties)
  • The National Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
  • Mental Health America: Text MHA to 741741
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness

Simpson said he believes, much like the wave we are experiencing with COVID-19, there will be a wave of patients seeking help for mental illnesses and substance use disorders. He compared it to the aftermath of a hurricane, and said when people are dealing with a damaged home, they will focus on their primary need for housing before seeking care for their mental health well-being.

His hope is that people will seek help before a situation gets too dire for an individual.

“It’s OK to reach out for substance use help and mental health help, just like we do for our physical health,” Simpson said. “We do know that for the most part, a lot of interventions for behavioral health can be done through technology. The technology is there and folks are ready and willing to help – you just have to reach out, and don’t wait too long.”

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