More crisis calls are becoming pandemic-related, and that trend is likely to continue

    Northwestern Mental Health Center in Crookston reminds everyone coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and all of the stresses it has wrought that they are here and available with a variety of helpful resources. In offering that reminder, NWMHC’s leaders also stress that you don’t have to wait until you’re in a crisis to reach out.

    “You don’t have to be in crisis or have suicidal thoughts to use our crisis line. It’s normal to feel some additional anxiety and stress during a global pandemic," NWMHC CEO Shauna Reitmeier says. “Call our mobile crisis team before you reach a breaking point. Our team is trained to assist in these situations."

    Typically, the center’s Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) receives four to five calls each day. Roughly 60% of the calls originate in Polk county. The other 40% come from Mahnomen, Norman, Red Lake, Marshall, Kittson, Pennington, and Roseau counties. While NWMHC saw a slight drop in calls the third week of March, calls have been steady.

    "About 15% of calls between March 16 and April 8 were related to anxiety and worries due to COVID-19," says Christie Wisk, MCRT mental health practitioner.

    Since March 23, she continues, the center has been supporting crisis callers through telemedicine when possible. Before that, Wisk explains, the MCRT was activated and met with individuals face-to-face for approximately half of the calls. The other half were resolved over the phone. In the last two weeks, NWMHC has used telemedicine to resolve 70% of its crisis calls.

       "This is a win-win. It's safer for callers and our employees. Seeing someone through telemedicine feels more connected and warmer than just talking on the phone. We can see the individual, read body cues, and evaluate the environment around them,” says Wisk. “And if the situation requires face-to-face interaction, we're still going to go. But we're taking extra precautions in those instances now, to keep everyone healthy."

    With so many uncertainties, NWMHC providers like Wisk hope to see more people reach out in April and May. Overall, the center has modified the delivery of all its services during the growing pandemic. Most of its providers now offer therapy, case management, and rehabilitation services from their homes using technology. And individuals can receive NWMHC services from anywhere using a phone, smartphone, or computer.

    But there's concern that as time goes on, people will need more support. NWMHC put processes in place to connect with current clients, and it has openings for new clients. Center leaders are exploring ways to reach those who may not have access to technology to connect through telemedicine. Or people who don't have a safe place to request and receive mental and chemical health care services. The center’s leadership team is also discussing how they can best support first responders, teachers, and those experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19.

    “Support from federal, state, and local governments has been critical in the last few weeks. It’s clear no one wants a mental health crisis to follow this pandemic,” Reitmeier says. “As funding and programs roll out and open doors, people should expect to see more opportunities for receiving mental health care in their communities.”

    In the coming weeks and months, people’s mental health will become even more important. Functioning in this physically isolated environment like this is not easy for most people. If you aren’t practicing and modeling self-care and wellness, Reitmeier notes, you may start seeing some challenges at home and with those in your household.

    “Our message to you today: We are here to help you build resiliency and prepare for what lies ahead. Whatever your situation looks like right now, we have resources and options to support you,” she adds.

    If you are experiencing symptoms of extreme stress, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call NWMHC’s 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 800-282-5005 or contact a Trained Crisis Counselor by texting MN to 741741.