Summit County nonprofits see steady increase in demand for mental health services

A mural on the side of the Silverthorne Performing Arts center encourages hope, love and strength during a stressful time.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

FRISCO — As the novel coronavirus pandemic moves into its fifth month of existence, experts are working to combat the “fourth wave” — its impact on mental health.

Organizations that offer mental health services have seen a steady increase in demand since the pandemic began. The Family & Intercultural Resource Center has seen a 25% increase in demand for all of its mental health programs, which include mental health navigation, peer support and support groups, which can be peer-led or facilitated by a therapist.

“I definitely attribute (the increase in demand) to the extra pressures that people are facing during COVID,” Brianne Snow, executive director of the nonprofit, said. “I think it’s a combination of just a lot of uncertainty and fear and trepidation about what’s going to happen next.” 

It’s no secret that a consequence of the pandemic is added stressors in one’s life. For many, financial insecurity came with the shutdown as people lost their jobs and ability to work. Economic anxiety combined with social isolation is a recipe for a much more difficult time, Snow said. 

“We’re seeing a good mix of people that already were struggling with mental health and people that are kind of new to the system and not sure where to go,” she said. “They have coping skills typically but this isolation and not being able to do what they normally do has made them struggle.”

Building Hope Summit County, a nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention, has seen an even greater increase in demand — around 35% to 40% — since the pandemic began. The nonprofit partners with the resource center to provide mental health navigation, in addition to running campaigns to decrease stigma, connectedness events, support groups and providing scholarships for therapy. 

Jennifer McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope, said the scholarship program alone has increased by 50%. 

“All of us are having this trauma together right now and we all process that at different times,” McAtamney said. “It has ratcheted up anxiety across the board.”

Although it doesn’t have an official statistics, the Summit Community Care Clinic has also seen an increase in demand for its behavioral health services, CEO Helen Royal said. Therapists are especially worried about the children who normally use the clinics within Summit County, Park County and Lake County schools. 

Although the clinic will be operating in Park and Lake county schools, Royal said it is still working with Summit School District to determine how it will function this school year. 

“Our clinics are in the schools, so we can’t be there with the kids,” she said. “Telehealth is great but not for everyone. So I’m really worried about our youth.”

The increase in demand has also caused a challenge for the people who provide the services. 

“We have the same amount of staff as we did pre-COVID, but we’re seeing a 25% increase,” Snow said. “It’s not like we have 25% more staff.”

To help the community’s front-line workers, Building Hope created support groups based on employment.

“They just have a space, every week, they can get on with a therapist as a group and talk about all that they’re feeling,” McAtamney said.

There is some concern about heightened anxiety and isolation as winter approaches. The future of the ski season hangs in the balance, causing people to worry about Summit’s tourism-based economy. 

“We struggle with isolation in this community anyway,” Snow said. “We’re bracing ourselves for winter when you might not be able to get outside as much or just have those coping mechanisms.”

While it can be a scary time for people who provide mental health services, an increase in attention to wellness and mental health care can only be a good thing, McAtamney said.

“People who have needed therapy for years are seeking therapy that’s needed,” she said. “It’s kind of a bright spot in COVID that this has given people the permission to ask, seek and receive the help they need.”

Snow agreed with McAtamney that there are silver linings to the pandemic. 

“I’m just really impressed with the community that this is on the forefront of everyone’s mind,” she said. “People are really invested in this community’s mental health, so that definitely gives me hope that we can meet the rise in demand.”

People who are struggling with their mental health and don’t know where to go can start by reaching out to The Family & Intercultural Resource Center or Building Hope, which offer scholarships and services to get people going in the right direction.

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