COVID-19 takes toll on mental health, but there is help available

It’s been a month since Minnesota’s stay at home order went in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. The disease has changed nearly every aspect of daily life.

“We really try to tell people take it a day at a time, it’s yesterday, today and tomorrow and don’t go beyond that,” said Sue Abderholden, the executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Minnesota.

Social distancing can be especially challenging for those who struggle with their mental health.

“We have people who don’t even have a phone, so how are they supposed to connect with their mental health professional?” Abderholden said. “I know some mental health providers are actually purchasing phones for people.”

She said other providers are adding minutes to family phone plans to help with access to care.

The FCC is now offering some funding to help cover those costs through its Telehealth Program. In response to the pandemic, Congress appropriated $200 million to help healthcare providers connect with patients virtually.

Providers could start applying for the program on April 13.

Abderholden hopes to see more support for families as well, especially those who have children with mental illness.

“I think we have to think about how are we supporting children right now,” she said. “They’re not at school, some of them had one-on-one paraprofessionals supporting them and now they’re home with their families,” Aberholden said.

Other families, she said, are dealing with an increase in stress due to financial strain.

On April 17, state leaders launched a mental health support page to help Minnesotans navigate the crisis. It connects to resources for children and adults, including a special section for health care workers and first responders.

“Please reach out, you’re not alone,” said Gov. Tim Walz. “We understand this is challenging."

Gov. Walz is also urging people to use the state’s crisis text and phone lines, which are open 24/7.

For free mental health support, text “MN” to 741741, or call **CRISIS (274747).

“Those are ways we have folks on,” he said. “We’re ramping up capacity to mental health providers.”

Abderholden told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that while they’ve only seen a slight increase in calls to their NAMI tipline, they’re receiving more complex questions.

She expects there will be a spike in 911 calls in the coming weeks.

“Because people will reach that crisis point,” she said. “I think the longer this goes on, the harder it will be.”

She’s encouraging Minnesotans to reach out to one another, even if it’s just a phone call. Abderholden said there are other ways to connect as well, like playing games over or meditating together over video chat.

“Do what you can to connect with people, make that extra effort because it will pay off,” she said.

And there is help available.

“We actually have a lot of mental health providers that have openings,” Abderholden said. “Go to your insurance plan, find out who is in your network and make that phone call.”

For additional help visit the NAMI website.