Local groups are rising to meet the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic to mental health in the community 

By Charlotte Beard

Behavioral Health Response (BHR) services for mental health has experienced a surge of calls for help due to this COVID-19 crisis. The community has long witnessed the impact of COVID-19 in how various sectors of the community are temporarily interacting with the public whether in the food industry, education, or emergency response. However, there has been somewhat limited response until recently in how the crisis impacts mental health. 

The Saint Louis Mental Health Board (MHB) has provided aid to help ensure local mental health agencies have what they need to serve those in mental crisis. According to Executive Director, Jama Dodson, the board recently approved $500,000 of additional emergency funding to more than 35 mental health organizations for the purpose of increasing resources or transitioning from in-person service to virtual service provisions.

“A lot of folks were not prepared to do that,” stated Dodson, “so they needed the equipment, the software, or (other technology) to be able to provide their services online to the clients that were seeking help.”

MHB is an independent government taxing authority that administers two special property taxes: the Community Mental Health Fund and the Community Children’s Services Fund. Tax dollars are granted to non-profit organizations that provide high quality services that benefit city residents. Dodson shared that normally there is a specific application process for the grants, however, these recent funds were rendered through an abbreviated process to expedite funding due to the pandemic.

“One thing that is of concern to most of us out there in the community that do this kind of work is that when families are (somewhat) kept locked in place in their homes (with) a lot of time spent together, sometimes that’s good but sometimes it’s not so good,” stated Dodson. “In some families, it’s likely (that the pandemic) will increase difficulties with their children. We’ve been concerned about child abuse and neglect issues when families are (somewhat) stressed by having to be together without any let-up – no (on-campus) schooling and parents having to teach classes.”

Sources from the St. Louis Public Health administration indicate that some people may be experiencing depression or anxiety if they have major concern about being able to effectively care for their children or others in their care. On April 22, the administration released a document that offers various tips for maintaining individual mental health during this stressful time as well as resources to obtain help. 

One of the main tips the document gives in recognizing the warning signs for depression, anxiety or suicide is to recognize “everyone reacts differently to stressful situations like social distancing, quarantine or isolation.” The document advises individuals or their loved one experiencing any of the reactions for more than two weeks to contact their health care provider or one of the resources provided in the document which can be found at http://stlcorona.com/news/dph-covid-19-update-4222020.

St. Louis Public Health administration advises individuals to reach out to people remotely they trust to help reduce anxiety, depression, loneliness and boredom during social distancing, quarantine and isolation. However, for some people this may not be an option. Some faith-based establishments have found that Stephen Ministries is a resource for these individuals who do not require professional assistance. The independent, St. Louis nonprofit organization is home to a program that is utilized within church congregations and organizations worldwide to provide one-on-one care to individuals in crisis. 

Stephen Ministries receives local calls and calls from church leaders in other states for referrals to local caregivers, referred to as Stephen Ministers.

Ken Haugk, Ph.D., who is the Founder and Executive Director for the organization stated, “That (happens) on an ongoing basis. We do this in normal times. We get Stephen Ministers for (approximately) 25 people (weekly) who need it around the country. People being (normally) cared for by Stephen Ministers are for typical crises (such as) loss of a loved one, terminal illness, separation, or divorce. With COVID-19, these struggles are increased. You are grieving the loss of a loved one – that is bad enough. (Now) the COVID-19 is on top of it.”

Another demographic which may be mentally impacted during the crisis are those that have become unemployed. As of April 23, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the Missouri unemployment rate for reported cases in February 2020 was 3.5 percent. In March, the preliminary rate increased to 4.5 percent for reported cases. 

“Grief is probably the number one reason for having a Stephen Minister (as it relates to) mild depression, loneliness spiritual struggles, or a terminal illness,” stated Haugk. “But another big group where Stephen Ministers normally have cared for people is when people have financial problems, or they’ve lost a job. I would imagine that this is going to be happening more and more since more and more people are losing jobs. The percentage of people who have lost jobs being ministered to by Stephen Ministries’ ministers (will likely) go up and it’s already going up.”

Individuals with non-critical care needs may contact Stephen Ministries for a referral Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 314-428-2600. To find out more about the organization visit https://www.stephenministries.org. For care 24 hours a day, call United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline or visit https://www.211unitedway.org/2020/04/22/coronavirus-information-2020. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.

CUTLINE: Submitted photos 

Cover-Mental 1-4 Stephen Ministries is a resource for these individuals who do not require professional assistance. The independent, St. Louis nonprofit organization is home to a program that is utilized within church congregations and organizations worldwide to provide one-on-one care to individuals in crisis. 

Cover-Mental5 Ken Haugk, Ph.D. is the Founder and Executive Director for Stephen Ministries.