What a difference a month makes. May is Mental Health Awareness Month but by late March it was clear that both recognizing the month was more important than ever, and that the message needed to change. COVID19 had upended the script and all of us were (and still are) adjusting to a new reality.
It is no longer sufficient to write about the impact of stigma on members of our community who are living with a mental illness, the chronic shortage of mental health providers in our region that prevents individuals from getting care, the lack of parity in insurance plans between mental and physical health and the limited number of therapists who take insurance, and the importance of getting treatment early, before problems can snowball and escalate. While all those points are still true, COVID19 has forced all of us to recalibrate our expectations around mental health, mental illness, and mental wellness.
During this time, if you are feeling stressed or anxious, you should know that you are not alone — and feelings of anxiety, worry, sadness and depression are normal responses to an uncertain world. To help manage these feelings, behavioral health professionals suggest that individuals focus on what they can control including mind and body (diet, exercise, sleep), immediate environment (work from home, only leave when you absolutely need to, spring cleaning), how they prepare (keep adequate food on hand but don’t hoard), what they consume (limit your news and social media intake, binge watch shows you enjoy), and how to protect yourself and others (wash your hands, wear a mask).
If you are still left feeling anxious or worried, remember you are not alone. Local support lines are open at The Center for Mental Health (970-252-6220), mental health screening tools are available (see mhascreening.org), and national lifelines are open (800-273-TALK, or TEXT to 741741).
COVID19 has changed the way behavioral health providers practice and how support groups function. Local AA meetings in Telluride have turned to ZOOM, and even the local, court-mandated DUI classes are on-line virtual classes. As one local professional said, “We will talk over the computer, on the phone, by text, or even email if it means we can connect with our clients.” Teletherapy, an accepted and proven method of delivering behavioral health treatments to clients, has been quickly adopted by behavioral health professionals. Tri-County Health Network, which has offered teletherapy in the schools and communities since 2017, continues to offer teletherapy with Colorado licensed professionals. Information is available on our website at tchnetwork.org/teletherapy/.
The San Miguel Behavioral Solutions Panel allocated $60,000 to the Good Neighbor Fund for San Miguel County residents seeking behavioral health services. Individuals who have a need but may lack the funds due to job loss can continue to see their therapist, or initiate therapy, with funding through the Good Neighbor Fund. Applications are online at Tri-County Health Network, or by emailing GNF@TCHNetwork.org. In addition, the panel allocated funds toward organizations already providing behavioral health services in the county to ensure that they had funds to provide services to all clients in need. Both initiatives provide funds to ensure that behavioral health services are not only continued, but in some cases are expanded, for residents in San Miguel County.
During Mental Health Month, TCHNetwork hopes that you will take the time to learn more about mental health and wellness. When we are again able to hold classes, sign up for a Mental Health First Aid or safeTALK class with TCHNetwork (at 970-708-7096 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you need immediate help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, text HOME to 741741, or call the Colorado Crisis Line at 1-844-493-2555.
Finally, remember, Safer At Home, But You’re Not Alone. You matter, we care and there is help a phone call away. We hope that you will reach out if you need help, check in on a friend, practice good self-care, and continue to support our community members who may be struggling in this challenging time.
We all have a role to play in helping ourselves and our families, friends and community members to maintain our mental health every day of the year — not just in May.