Men­tal health con­cerns on rise as pan­demic con­tin­ues

The Dundalk Eagle - - FRONT PAGE - By MIKE URSERY murs­ery@ches­

Septem­ber is Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Month, and as the coun­try en­ters the sixth month of the COVID-19 pan­demic, men­tal health is be­com­ing an even big­ger con­cern.

The coro­n­avirus pan­demic is bring­ing un­prece­dented suf­fer­ing not seen in liv­ing mem­ory, ac­cord­ing to the Psy­chi­atric Times. Mil­lions across the coun­try have lost their jobs and their liveli­hoods. Peo­ple have lost loved ones to the virus while faced with the prospect of be­com­ing the next COVID death. The Psy­chi­atric Times refers to this as a “per­fect storm,” chronic ex

po­sure to se­vere stress in the ab­sence of con­trol.

The im­pact wrought by the

pan­demic has changed the lives of peo­ple across Amer­ica and even right here in Bal­ti­more County. Liv­ing in un­cer­tain times can be fright­en­ing, but re­sources are avail­able for Dun­dalkians who ei­ther are seek­ing help con­cern­ing men­tal health or who know some­one who is strug­gling.

The Bal­ti­more County Cri­sis Re­sponse Team re­mains on standby for those fac­ing a men­tal health cri­sis. The BCCRT, es­tab­lished in 2001, is part­nered with both the Bal­ti­more County Po­lice Depart­ment and the Af­fil­i­ated Sante´ Group, a be­hav­ioral health or­ga­ni­za­tion that serves 15 Mary­land ju­ris­dic­tions.

Michelle Grigsby-Hack­ett, vice pres­i­dent of Mary

land Cri­sis Re­sponse Ser­vices, said the Af­fil­i­ated Sante´Group has been es­tab­lished for 40 years. Be­gin­ning as the Rock Creek Foun­da­tion, lo­cated in Sil­ver Spring, it is now one of the largest providers of men­tal health ser­vices to lo­cal gov­ern­ments around the state.

Al­li­son Pal­adino, who is the di­rec­tor of the Bal­ti­more County Cri­sis Re­sponse Team, said the pro­gram is over­seen by the Bal­ti­more County Health Depart­ment, with its fund­ing source com­ing from the Bal­ti­more County Bureau of Be­hav­ioral Health.

“We are in place to pro­vide cri­sis ser­vices to any Bal­ti­more County res­i­dent or any­one who might be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a cri­sis while in the county,” Pal­adino said. “We do this through a num­ber of ser­vice com­po­nents.”

The real pic­ture

Sta­tis­tics show that the risks as­so­ci­ated with men­tal health have in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly since the pan­demic be­gan. Ac­cord­ing to the Kaiser Fam­ily Foun­da­tion (KFF), 53 per­cent of US adults have re­ported a neg­a­tive im­pact to their men­tal health, up from 32 per­cent in March, when the pan­demic be­gan.

KFF said that US adults have re­ported spe­cific symp­toms over that time. Ac­cord­ing to KFF, 36 per­cent of adults have re­ported trou­ble sleep­ing, 32 per­cent have re­ported is­sues with eat­ing, and 12 per­cent have re­ported an in­crease in the con­sump­tion of al­co­hol or il­le­gal drugs. Th­ese on­go­ing pub­lic health mea­sures can lead sit­u­a­tions linked to poor men­tal health out­comes, such as iso­la­tion or job loss, KFF said.

Sub­stance use dis­or­der can lead peo­ple to be en­tered into the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, Pal­adino said. A neg­a­tive im­pact on one’s men­tal health could lead to a per­son act­ing ir­ra­tionally, such as throw­ing a brick through a win­dow or an­other form of de­stroy­ing prop­erty, can also lead to crim­i­nal charges.

“That’s a de­struc­tion of prop­erty charge, but we know it’s a symp­tom of the be­hav­ior, Pal­adino said. “Let’s work on the un­der­ly­ing prob­lem and get the per­son into the cor­rect level of care.”

Pal­adino said that men­tal health sta­tis­tics in Bal­ti­more County were slightly lower than the na­tional aver­age (32 per­cent) in March when the pan­demic be­gan. This could be be­cause peo­ple were tak­ing care of more con­crete phys­i­cal needs, she said.

As the pan­demic con­tin­ues, Pal­adino said, her team is not only see­ing an in­creased vol­ume, but an in­crease in the acu­ity of calls.

Does it af­fect us all the same?

Pal­adino and Grigs­byHack­ett said that sta­tis­tics break­ing down men­tal health is­sues by race are not avail­able. Coro­n­avirus sta­tis­tics show that peo­ple of color have been im­pacted greater over­all. The Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion (SAMHSA) said re­cently that Blacks make up 17 per­cent of the US pop­u­la­tion and His­pan­ics make up 18 per­cent, yet they ac­count for 30 per­cent and 17 per­cent of US pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus cases, re­spec­tively.

Men­tal health sta­tis­tics also re­flect the im­pact on dif­fer­ent age groups. Ac­cord­ing to Healio Psy­chi­a­try, the pan­demic has re­sulted in many quar­an­tine and so­cial iso­la­tion mea­sures de­signed to keep in­di­vid­u­als phys­i­cally dis­tanced from oth­ers for the fore­see­able fu­ture. Chil­dren are af­fected by the lack of a daily struc­ture. In Bal­ti­more County, pub­lic schools will be closed to tra­di­tional in-per­son learn­ing un­til af­ter Jan. 29.

Over the past decade, col­lege stu­dents have seen an in­crease in de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and sui­ci­dal­ity, ac­cord­ing to Healio. Cam­pus clos­ings have caused a shift in think­ing among stu­dents about their sense of be­long­ing, while vir­tual learn­ing, and the pan­demic it­self, can re­sult in an in­creased feel­ing of lone­li­ness and in­creased rates of anx­i­ety.

For adults, sev­eral stres­sors can be re­spon­si­ble for a neg­a­tive im­pact on men­tal health. Many peo­ple be­gan tele­work­ing, po­ten­tially lead­ing to an in­crease in so­cial iso­la­tion. For oth­ers, fi­nan­cial stres­sors could be the source of a neg­a­tive im­pact. An­other, com­bin­ing work re­spon­si­bil­i­ties with car­ing for loved ones, be they older adults or school-aged chil­dren.

Re­sources are avail­able

Pal­adino said the BCCRT has sev­eral re­sources for peo­ple in Bal­ti­more County to ac­cess in the event of a men­tal health cri­sis. The BCCRT of­fers the fol­low­ing re­sources:

Op­er­a­tions Call Cen­ter

• Op­er­ates 24 hours a day/365 days a year

• Calls are an­swered and screened by men­tal health coun­selors

• Dan­ger/lethal­ity of the caller’s sit­u­a­tion is as­sessed

• Calls may be triaged to ur­gent care, mo­bile cri­sis team or in home in­ter­ven­tion team

•Cases are man­aged with a cri­sis plan

• In­for­ma­tion and re­fer­rals draw from a com­pre­hen­sive re­sources database

• Link­ages are made to treat­ment and sup­port sys­tems

Mo­bile Cri­sis Team

• Com­prised of a spe­cially trained and se­lected po­lice of­fi­cer, paired with a lis­censed men­tal health clin­i­cian.

• Dis­patched by 911/law en­force­ment ra­dio or op­er­a­tions cen­ter (cri­sis re­sponse).

• Op­er­ates seven days a week be­tween 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 a.m.

• The team can be dis­patched to aid sui­ci­dal and men­tally ill in­di­vid­u­als, as­sist in sit­u­a­tional cri­sis events, emer­gency pe­ti­tions and other acute sit­u­a­tions.

Ur­gent Care Cen­ter

• Clients are seen within 48 hours

• Of­fers both di­ag­nos­tic as­sess­ments and med­i­ca­tion eval­u­a­tions

• The clin­ics pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive to costly emer­gency depart­ment ser­vices

• Trans­porta­tion and phar­macy as­sis­tance are avail­able

• Crit­i­cal In­ci­dent Stress Man­age­ment

• De­brief­ing for com­mu­nity dis­as­ters or cri­sis events

• Avail­able to groups and in­di­vid­u­als

• Staff are specif­i­cally trained for manag­ing stress fol­low­ing a crit­i­cal in­ci­dent

• Com­mu­nity Ed­u­ca­tion

• Men­tal health ed­u­ca­tion is pro­vided for all first re­spon­ders: (fire depart­ment, law en­force­ment, emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cians)

• Ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing is also avail­able to com­mu­nity providers

• Sui­cide pre­ven­tion and in­ter­ven­tion ed­u­ca­tion

• Sem­i­nars are avail­able re­gard­ing cri­sis in­ter­ven­tion and men­tal health

Com­mu­nity Ori­ented Sys­tem

• Re­la­tion­ship with lo­cal first re­spon­ders

• Con­tin­u­ously up­dat­ing an elec­tronic com­mu­nity providers database

• Com­mu­nity-based cri­sis sta­bi­liza­tion

• Men­tal health first re­spon­ders who fol­low-up with wrap-around ser­vices

• Fo­cus on com­mu­nity ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach

• Mon­i­tored by an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee

• Uses a sin­gle point of ac­cess to man­age clients in cri­sis

• Serves as hub of a wheel of com­mu­nity agen­cies and providers

The Bal­ti­more County Cri­sis Hot­line is avail­able 24 hours each day, seven days a week for im­me­di­ate cri­sis sup­port. The hot­line can be reached at 410-931-2214.

Peo­ple can also call the Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion Life­line at 1-800-273-8255.


As the COVID-19 pan­demic con­tin­ues, neg­a­tive im­pacts on men­tal health are on the rise in Bal­ti­more County as well as across the coun­try.

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