As pandemic wears on, Summit County officials look to support mental health efforts
While life in a pandemic has become routine, that doesn’t mean it has become easier, and local officials are taking note of that.
At a Summit County Board of Health meeting Thursday, Jan. 28, Building Hope Summit County Executive Director Jen McAtamney presented on mental health trends throughout the county. The board invited McAtamney to the meeting in an effort to gain a better understanding of how the pandemic is impacting all aspects of life for locals.
Overall, the nonprofit is seeing increased demand and severity when it comes to depression, anxiety and substance use.
“At the very beginning of this, we actually saw a decrease in anxiety and depression,” McAtamney said at the meeting. “But as the lockdown wore on, and as things have subsequently gone on, we’ve seen an increase in depression and anxiety. … Everything is more acute.”
The increase in severity is especially high among the county’s youth population, specifically those ages 12-15, she said. The nonprofit is using its program The Hype, which offers a series of connectedness events targeted toward youths, to try to help connect younger people to resources.
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The nonprofit is also partnering with Envision You, a Colorado-based organization that seeks to empower members of the LBGTQ community. The nonprofit will be working with the organization to create a focus group that will look at needs.
The group will “find out what services that people in that community here need, especially for our younger folks, who may be struggling with sexual identity and trying to figure out how to navigate that, as well,” McAtamney said.
The nonprofit also will partner with the organization to create a scholarship for LGBTQ youths.
McAtamney said Building Hope is focusing a lot of its attention on raising awareness about resources. Once the pandemic ends, people will have more time to process what they’ve been through, which causes concern for mental health professionals.
“It is almost like we’ve been on a deployment now for nine months,” she said. “As we unwind, we’ll all of a sudden have space to start processing everything we’ve gone through. (We’re) making sure we provide those supports.”
McAtamney added that the nonprofit is planning to have volunteers attend vaccination drives to check in on people while they’re monitored for signs of allergic reactions after receiving their shots. The goal will be to see how people are doing and provide resources for those who might not have them.
“(We) just want to let people know that … if they’re not feeling OK, that that is totally OK and normal,” she said. “I can’t emphasize that enough these days.”
The county is also working on publishing more information about how the pandemic is impacting behavioral health, economic stability and housing data on its data dashboard.
County officials are still in the beginning phases of collecting the data, but they hope it will provide more insight into how the county can help those who are being negatively impacted by the pandemic.
For Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence, McAtamney’s update served as a chance to reflect on her own mental health.
“You said a few things that I’m like, ’Oh, OK, yeah, that really strikes a chord with me. I’m not the only person in the county that feels like I’m a bad employee, bad spouse, bad mother, etc?’” Lawrence said. “You’re right, I think we’re tired. Just from you doing that presentation, it helped me.”
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