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The looming mental health crisis 

Uncertainties about jobs and the future will have

Uncertainties about jobs and the future will have a profound impact on many of us during the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto / Jorm Sangsorn

This is an overwhelming time.

Some people feel isolated. Others show signs of depression or anxiety. Some just need some advice or comfort. Then there are those with suicidal thoughts swirling, or addictions that must be addressed, in need of far more serious help.

And on a Memorial Day weekend that looks and feels so different, where we can’t be with family and friends, or dine outdoors at a favorite summer spot or enjoy the beach without restrictions, those feelings could become especially acute. It’s a time when we’re used to kicking off our fun-filled summer — and instead, the uncertainty and the unknown continue to dominate our thoughts. For those who have lost their jobs and seasonal merchants who need the summer crowds to sustain their businesses, it’s also troubling.

Nurses and doctors have been through so many horrific days, with far too much sickness and death that they’ve been unable to stop. Family members have been unable to see their loved ones in their final moments. Those recovering from the coronavirus have found the road bumpy and steep. Child care and summer activities for children are gone, leaving parents to cope not only with their concerns but also the disappointment of their children. There are those who are waiting out the pandemic alone. And there are men, women and children who are home with someone who’s physically or emotionally abusive.

But you are not alone.

No matter what’s troubling you during these uncertain, difficult times, the key is to get help as quickly as possible. The assistance is there for you — and there’s no reason to be ashamed of seeking it. No problem is too big or too small.

While so much of the health care world’s attention is on the coronavirus pandemic itself, there’s a looming mental health crisis as well, one that likely will continue even as the initial wave of COVID-19 subsides.

Across Long Island and the state, crisis counselors have been working remotely, taking calls, responding to texts, and even holding online chats with those residents who need help. The Long Island Crisis Center in Bellmore and the Response Crisis Center in Stony Brook have seen calls to their hotlines and to the national suicide hotline that filters calls to their counselors spike by between 20 and 30% since the pandemic began to hit New York. The Response Crisis Center also provides an online chat feature that has been particularly well-used, especially among teens and others who don’t want to speak on the phone. New York’s Office of Mental Health’s new Emotional Support Helpline, meanwhile, has received more than 14,000 calls since it started on March 25. Domestic violence continues to be a significant concern, too. As reports have risen 30%, the state just last week formed a task force to address the issue. 

Many of those seeking help, according to state and local officials, are essential workers, from nurses and doctors to first responders. Particularly troubling are instances like one late last month, when Lorna Breen, an NYC emergency room medical director, died by suicide. “She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” Breen’s father was quoted as saying.

We can’t let that happen to others who’ve been on the front lines during this crisis.

But the need goes beyond health care workers. In Nassau County, officials said, there’s been an uptick in the number of county employees seeking assistance through its Employee Assistance Program.

Concerns are also mounting over anecdotal evidence that there has been an increase in opioid overdoses. The data lags a bit, so it may take some time before we know the full picture. In other instances, those already under psychiatric care are not taking their medications. 

State and local officials said they’re preparing for a further ramp-up in mental health needs, as stress, anxiety and depression increase in the weeks and months ahead. There will be a need for more crisis counselors and services. It’s critical that the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant the state Office of Mental Health the $100 million it applied for, funding that would filter down to the counties, especially in virus hot spots like Long Island.

That money could also help the state with data collection and analysis, so state officials know what individual counties and communities are experiencing. The only way for the state to pinpoint where help is needed, and how to best assist local residents, is to reach out to each crisis center to collect information. Seek help. It’s available, whether through online substance abuse programs, or telehealth chats with medical professionals, or crisis hotlines. If you know others who need help, please reach out and check in with them, or call to get them the assistance they need. 

— The editorial board