MANSFIELD — Mental health services in Ohio are preparing to see a spike in requests for services as COVID-19 becomes the new normal in the U.S.
“Once people move out of crisis mode, our services become very high demand. People are now starting to process things again and we’re starting to see some uptick in the request for services throughout the state,” said Joe Trolian, executive director of the Richland County Mental Health Board.
Last year, Richland County saw its lowest suicide rates since 2004, totaling nine. In the past month since Gov. Mike DeWine issued the stay-at-home order, four suicides have been reported, with no particular cause cited at the moment.
Since learning of those numbers, the Richland County Mental Health Board have made sure agencies are manning the crisis hotlines, even opening up a family and children’s support line in addition.
“We’re also calling out to clients that we know may be at higher risk, doing reach outs wherever possible,” Trolian said.
Trolian related the current situation to Hancock County after a flood a few years ago, where mental health services saw an influx two months later of clients reaching out for help.
“Other people think that once a crisis is over (they) can get back to work and life becomes normal. That’s usually when reality sets in for a lot of people who’ve been in crisis mode,” Trolian said. “They’re now exhausted and dealing with the after effects, and we see a lot of people coming in for service.”
Richland County mental health services have remained open during the pandemic, offering both in-person counseling and telehealth services.
Trolian said the board have needed to move funding around from under-utilized programs during this time to apply to services in high demand.
“It’s been a changing environment and we’ve been doing what we can to try and assist them and adapt,” Trolian said.
Although mental health services around the U.S. have experienced issues with funding or not receiving any, Trolian said that’s not the case for Richland County. Using their property tax levy, the funds have been adjusted as needed.
“We’re not seeing an influx of funds, but we’re seeing the freedom to be able to move things around and the state has also given us a lot of discretion with some of our state funding to use it as we need to in this particular crisis,” Trolian said.
With federal funding, however, Trolian said they’re not seeing the same amount of flexibility, leading to the board sharing their concerns with Sen. Rob Portman, who recently asked for their perspective on how things were going in the county.
“Those are some of the things we shared with him. We appreciate some of the flexibility, but we could use more,” Trolian said.
In stark contrast to Richland County, Ashland has seen a slight decline in calls to their 24/7 crisis hotline, no suicides and no influx of new people seeking out services.
“Our crisis services have not increased, in fact in some respects there’s been a slight decrease in some of those," said Steve Stone, executive director of the Ashland Mental Health and Recovery Board. "We’re not seeing a lot of the things that we’re hearing from other communities around the state, and so our experience is a little bit different in that regard.”
Stone said board members have worked hard to promote self-care and encouraging the Ashland Community to take advantage of natural support systems.
Relying very little on state hospital or inpatient programs in the community, Stone thinks the need for professional mental health services will remain low based on common sense approaches of people taking care of themselves as well as each other.
Stone accredited peer support programs as a major factor to keeping their numbers low. Those programs include: a sewing group, where community members participated in making several hundred face masks due to the low shortage, and a writing group that will work with the statewide network to write letters to patients in the state hospitals during COVID-19.
“Those programs are giving people who are otherwise maybe on the margins of society a central and really purposeful role in attending to the fallout from this pandemic,” Stone said.
The Ashland Mental Health and Recovery Board also provides online services such as breathing and mindful exercises and opportunities for social connection.
“We feel pretty confident that the resources that are available to our community are being applied in ways that are really effective and efficient,” Stone said.
As long as the Ashland Community keeps relying on relationships, meaning and purpose, Stone believes the need for big hospitals, residential care and “expensive, ineffective services” won’t be needed.
Although he doesn’t want to minimize the challenges the world is up against, Stone said the Ashland Community are up to those challenges.
“I’m going to take a little more of an optimistic view of this and try to keep looking at the half-full part of this glass,” Stone said.