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Mental health services hearing more concerns over economic fallout

Region already working to expand services before virus hit

FARMINGTON – Since the coronavirus-induced state closures in early March, practitioners in San Juan County – already working to expand mental health services – have seen an uptick in anxiety and depression related to economic worries.

Susan Hodgman, the behavioral health services director for San Juan County, said all of the community, statewide and national indicators show mental health is going to suffer. She said there has already been heightened reports of anxiety, sadness, grief and depression related to the coronavirus and the economic downturn.

“People are struggling, there’s a higher incidence of substance abuse relapse, increase in suicides and suicide ideation,” she said. “Behavioral health providers are really hustling to meet those needs.”

She said the San Juan County Mental Health Taskforce has partnered with local practitioners to talk about suicide support, anxiety, grief and depression in five-minute informative videos posted to its Facebook page.

Jolene Schneider, executive director of Four Winds Recovery Center in Farmington, said the need for treatment hasn’t lessened, and if anything, the need has increased.

“I think for all of us, it’s a very stressful time and a good amount of anxiety,” she said. “If most of us are going through that, it’s even more difficult for people going through the early stages of recovery.”

The recovery center, which offers one of the only inpatient services in the city, has implemented additional safety precautions. Proof of a negative COVID-19 test is required before intake, and clients are met outside for a health screening. Everyone must wear a mask, and the facility does an additional coronavirus test during intake. The management also decided to suspend the field trips outside of the facility and instead increase recreation activities available inside the center.

Schneider said one of the struggles in the early days of the pandemic was being able to find enough supplies for everyone living in the facility. The center continues to receive personal protective equipment from San Juan County Emergency Management Office, but she said sometimes finding bleach and other cleaning supplies locally has been an issue.

Schneider said the inpatient population is close to average, with a three- to four-week wait list to be admitted, but with inpatient services shifted to virtual, there has been a drop-off in participation. The recovery center was able to implement online groups fairly early in the pandemic, but it caused a few clients to drop away because they did not have reliable internet access.

“There are some people that live on or near the reservation and just don’t have reliable internet service,” she said. “There’s also two or three who have struggled with their emotions going on and returned to using. We haven’t heard from them.”

Sadie Smith-McDaniel with Angel Peak Counseling in Bloomfield said her counseling business saw a similar drop off in patients during the first three weeks of the lockdown because people were unsure about doing telehealth. But after the first month, it picked up and went back to normal, she said.

“Right now, we’re running about 25 clients a week and three to five new intakes a week so we’ve definitely seen an increase,” Smith-McDaniel said. She is the sole practitioner at Angel Peak Counseling.

Smith-McDaniel, who has been in private practice for the last three years, said she has seen a lot of increased depression, anxiety and conflict within households centered around the economic downturn.

“Even if they haven’t currently lost a position, a lot of people are concerned about what could happen in the near future around employment,” she said. “Most of the concerns have not revolved around COVID itself but around the economic impact.”

Schneider said she has seen an increase in economic-centered worries in the in-patient center’s clients, too. While several of them, by the time they reach residential treatment, might not have a job, there’s a growing concern for family members who might be struggling while that individual is in treatment, she said.

“If someone loses their job, or there’s concern the family doesn’t have enough to eat, those kind of thoughts preoccupy a number of people,” Schneider said.

While counselors and therapists are now allowed to hold in-person sessions, telehealth was the predominant form of therapy early in the pandemic and statewide closures. Smith-McDaniel said it was an “overnight transition” for providers and clients.

“San Juan County in general lacks so many resources for mental health that prior to the quarantine and the pandemic, we already were overwhelmed,” she said. “We’ve managed it pretty well. The community of professionals have really worked together to fill any of the gaps that have been there.”

Hodgman also said there have been gaps in mental health services.

“There’s still a lack of providers here in the area,” she said. “When gas and oil went down, they took a lot of people with them. We’re still struggling to build our providers.”

But she added those agency directors and mental health providers in the area have been doing a strong job to provide those necessary services.

“I think it’s real important for people to recognize that we all have needs and to take care of those,” Hodgman said.


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