California Wine Country mental health needs soar in coronavirus pandemic
While a vaccine may someday offer promise of easing the impact of COVID-19 across the North Bay, questions remain about whether the damage done to the mental health of its residents can fully recover after nearly a year in which demand for services spiked and government and nonprofits struggled to respond.
To begin to find solutions to this growing concern, Sonoma County voters last November approved Measure O, a quarter cent sales tax increase expected to raise $25 million over a decade to address mental health and homeless issues.
Backers say the revenue is expected to fund mental health programs such as emergency psychiatric and crisis services unit and related programs (44%); the county’s residential care facility and transitional housing services (22%); mental health services at children’s shelters, at residential care facilities and for permanent supportive housing (18%); behavioral health and homeless services for some 3,000 individuals, leaving 2% for capital funding of the county’s supportive housing pool.
A worrying sign
When the pandemic hit, and many Americans suddenly lost jobs, faced financial pressures, and became isolated, exacerbating emotional and behavioral symptoms.
In a poll conducted from March 25 through May 30, 2020, Kaiser Family Foundation reported about 45% of Americans were said the virus and pandemic were having a negative effect on their mental health.
Likewise, a June 29 McKinsey & Company survey found that 25% of respondents reported binge drinking, 20% said they were taking prescription drugs for nonmedical use, and more than 14% reported using illicit drugs.
Across the nation, 25% of adults live with a mental illness (51.5 million in 2019), according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
PsychStrategies General Manager Sara Mitchell said, “We scheduled more appointments in 2020 than in 2019 and regrettably have to turn some people away temporarily.”
With offices in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, in 2019 PsychStrategies’ 36 therapists scheduled over 33,000 sessions seeing children, adolescents, couples and adults. In 2020, the organization scheduled 34,123 sessions by year-end.
“We are seeing a greater need for mental health care, especially among youth ages 14 to 17 at home doing distance learning. They are frustrated, experiencing a lack of social interaction and feelings of hopelessness.”
PsychStrategies works with most major insurance companies which can defray counseling costs with small copays. Without such plans, Mitchell said the rate can range from $140 and $160 per session. However, some insurance companies are waiving copays for telehealth sessions during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Our clinicians are working hard. We’re doing a lot more sessions via telehealth with only a handful being seen in our offices,” said Mitchell. “We don’t want to put people on a wait list. Instead, we advise them to call back to see if there are openings. We are working on offering group therapy via telehealth.”
She said a number of business-related and public Employee Assistance Plans (EAP) offer from 3 to 10 weekly counseling sessions or enable workers to get free sessions from some providers. Without financial aid, after 10 weekly sessions, many clients may not return for therapy. PsychStrategies is also offering a Mindful Meditation Group via Zoom to help clients cope with anxieties and reduce stress.
Youth mental health concerns
Social-learning network StuDocu polled over 1,600 students between March 24 and April 17 and found that 62.4% of Gen Zers said isolating during COVID-19 has worsened their mental health. The top emotions for those polled were stress, frustration, anxiety, and loneliness. Only 18.5% reported that they often feel happy during the pandemic.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUG) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services over a five-year period, nearly 1 in 3 high-school youth reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 or more weeks. High school girls who seriously considered suicide in the past year increased by 34%, and 56% more young people experienced major depression over the last 5 years.
Based on a new study by three University of Cincinnati researchers working with NSDUG data covering the period 2015 to 2018, they reported an increase of 16% among those having suicidal thoughts, a rise of 18.6% among those planning to take their lives and an increase of 11.6% among those attempting suicide.
In 2018 the Centers for Disease Control found that suicide is the 2nd-leading cause of death for those ages 10–24. The CDC also revealed that 1 in 6 U.S. youth ages 6–17 experience a mental health disorder each year.