Mental health problems persist after the pandemic emerges; regional agencies form a coalition for prevention, treatment

Mind Springs Health, through its Glenwood Springs facility on South Grand Avenue, now operates a mobile recovery team to respond to people with addiction or mental health crisis.
John Stroud / Freelance Post

Garfield County did not see the major surge in suicides last year that mental health professionals worried about due to the economic and personal stresses caused by the pandemic.

In some ways, however, the rebound in public health restrictions that were in place for most of last year and into the first part of 2021 – and a new kind of isolation that follows – could be more difficult.

“Where we thought we had a suicide epidemic last year, we haven’t seen that in Garfield County, or even Colorado or nationwide,” health specialist Mason Hohstadt said. Garfield County Public Health Public Health Debriefing ”to Departmental Commissioners.

This is not particularly surprising on the local front, since Garfield County saw a record high number of suicides in 2019, when 24 people committed suicide, according to Garfield County coroner’s records.

That number fell to 14 last year – a still very concerning number and an unfortunate barometer of the general state of people’s mental health, Hohstadt said.

Hohstadt said in a follow-up interview last week that the trend so far this year is alarming, and all the more reason to step up suicide prevention and mental health and addiction intervention services.

As of the end of May, Garfield County had recorded eight suicide deaths.

“It’s not higher than at this time in 2019, but it’s higher than at the same time last year,” Hohstadt said.

People are still struggling, he said. And, what has changed this year is that they may not have the same level of support as at the height of the pandemic.

Hohstadt chairs the Garfield County Suicide Prevention Coalition and is co-chair of the County Human Services Commission, in addition to his work with public health.

“We’re concerned that as we get back to normal some of that connectivity that we had in 2020, which was kind of forced, will go away,” he said. “The people who are still struggling may not have the support and safety net they had last year.”

The May 17 debriefing and panel discussion brought together mental health and addiction experts from Mind Springs Health, Mountain Family Health Centers, Aspen Hope Center, Youth Zone and High Rockies Harm Reduction.

The main impetus was to examine the statistics of the various organizations over the past year. Among them was reported an 800% increase in calls to emergency lines in the region.

There is good news and bad news to this statistic, Hohstadt said.

“It tells us that people are aware of their mental health and know that there is a resource available to them, and they have used it when they felt the need,” he said.

While suicide prevention and mental health hotlines are essential in the most acute situations, Hohstadt said about 65% of callers “just want to talk,” perhaps preventing this crisis point. .

At the end of last year, MindSprings Health stepped up its crisis response efforts with the launch of its mobile recovery team.

The team of mental health professionals, peer specialists and case managers respond on a referral basis to provide immediate assistance to people in crisis, whether it is a mental health emergency or an addiction emergency. – or, in many situations, both.

If necessary, the team can connect people not only to treatment services but, if necessary, to housing, food and employment support, said Hans Lutgring, director of the outpatient care program at Mind. Springs at Glenwood Springs.

The mobile recovery team operates under the umbrella of Mind Springs, but other organizations are involved, making it a true collaborative effort, he explained.

Peer support is often the critical first step, Lutgring said.

“Through this collaboration, we can create connection points for people and really touch the power of the peer specialist,” he said. “It is people with lived experiences who are ready to use those experiences as the best entry point for people with addiction.”

Often, people in crisis aren’t quite ready to embark on a treatment program, Lutgring said.

“What the mobile recovery team is best at is starting the conversation,” he said.

The state of mental health and addiction among young people has been a major concern both during and after the pandemic.

YouthZone, which serves the Aspen region in Parachute, reported a 6% increase in high-risk and intermediate-risk intakes from March to December 2020, new executive director Jami Hayes said during the debriefing discussion.

“We have seen a significant increase in alcohol consumption among young people, in particular,” she said. “Our parents are crying out for support and help with this and other behavioral issues, and we have responded with free parenting counseling during the pandemic.”

For its part, around this concern, the Aspen Hope Center has expanded its school-based mental health centers in the region, said Sarah Fedishan, program director for organizing mental health support services throughout the valley. .

And, behavioral intervention services are available earlier and earlier in a child’s development, she said.

“We now have new contracts starting in elementary schools… and we are delighted to have school-based clinicians at all three grade levels providing referrals to Mind Springs or Mountain Family Health,” Fedishen said. “It’s about providing a continuum of care and catching students with behavioral problems as soon as possible.

Hohstadt said he was encouraged by the collaborative efforts between the various organizations to provide prevention, intervention and treatment services in what has always been a rural area underserved in mental health and addiction services.

“I am delighted that these efforts are working to meet people where they are and help them help themselves,” he said.

“This takes into account the fact that people are not always able to get treatment right now. We can tend to have some kind of high morality in these conversations and say that you have to do these things to get better. Sometimes it can make things worse.

This is especially true with opioid addiction, said Maggie Seldeen of High Rockies Harm Reduction.

His organization has worked to put Narcan in the hands of law enforcement and other emergency response personnel to deal with overdose situations.

While the number of suicides was down in Garfield County and statewide last year, overdose-related deaths increased slightly from 10 in 2019 to 11 in 2020. In Colorado, that number has grown from around 1,100 in 2019 to nearly 1,500 last year, Seldeen said.

“We would probably see a much larger increase without the collaborative relationships we have, including with law enforcement,” she said.

Seldeen also worked on an effort to establish a syringe access program and recovery center in Carbondale to help people overcome their opioid addiction.

A challenge in providing consistent professional treatment and counseling services in the region is the labor shortage and high cost of living, which can be a barrier even for many professionals.

“Finding qualified and experienced mental health workers has been a challenge for us and for all community mental health care providers in the state,” said Stephanie Keister, public information manager for Mind Springs, in a statement. follow-up interview. “It has been going on for several years and it is not something particularly new.”

Luckily for Mind Springs, however, she said there hasn’t been a huge turnover of employees for the organization, which serves 10 Western Slope counties.

“And we haven’t really seen any significant delays in getting people into treatment,” Keister said.

Because of its size, she said Mind Springs has the advantage of being able to leverage resources and partnerships with other organizations in a much larger region.

Senior Journalist / Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or [email protected]

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