September is National Suicide Prevention Month. If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can talk to a live person by calling the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Even though it may feel like it, you are not alone.
Before COVID-19, people in hazmat suits, state of emergency lock downs, and social isolation were concepts reserved for movies and far away places. Collectively, we draw our support from our community, friends, and families. Overnight, COVID-19 made it unsafe for many of us to stay meaningfully connected to the ones we love, leaving millions of people to go through this pandemic alone. Without a support system, people experience higher rates of physical and mental illness and overall wellbeing decreases. Add a pre-existing condition such as anxiety and depression to the already immense stress of the situation, the burden of this pandemic gets even greater.
Access to mental health services is vital to the overall well-being of our community during this time when many lack a solid foundation on which to stand. Buncombe County has assembled a team of behavioral health professionals to address the changes in access, and increased need for mental health services in our communities. “Like many medical conditions, we saw visits for behavioral health services take a dive when COVID first hit. People were afraid to go to a counselor or see their peer support, and many lacked telehealth access,” says Amy Upham, Health and Human Services Program Consultant and Opioid Response Coordinator. “So we gathered together a diverse team of behavioral health specialists from across the County to increase access to telehealth, promote the continued availability of behavioral health services, educate providers on PPE access and protocol, and innovate on in-person services.” Their work has helped to make mental health services like outpatient counseling, Medication Assisted Treatment, and peer support more accessible and safer to our residents. Buncombe began seeing an uptick in utilization of these services a month after their efforts began, and after giving out over 5,000 mental health resource bags to families through school nutrition programs in July, utilization is now closer to pre-COVID baseline.
These services are available to anyone in our community that needs them, especially those struggling with increased depression, anxiety, and suicidality. During this crisis, VAYA Health has agreed to refer to all mental health and developmental disability services, even for those agencies they do not manage. Their phone number is (800) 849-6127. You can also access this information, and a list of virtual peer support and recovery meetings, by calling 211.