In an effort to assist those affected by mental health, the United Way of Central Missouri has partnered with the Capital Region Medical Center, the Anne Marie Project, the Compass Health Network, SSM Health, and St. Mary’s Hospital to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month.  

The partnership plans to offer any help as well as end any stigma. According to Heather Johns, manager of the Center for Mental Wellness at Capital Region, their goal is to try and bring more awareness to the community regarding mental health and to make sure that everyone is aware that it is always important to take care of their own.

“We’re in a community of great wonderful resources,” Johns said. “Capital Region offers a lot of resources and so do the other businesses and organizations around mental health. We have a lot of support but sometimes the barrier of people getting help is the result of fear of the stigma, being labeled, or not wanted to be considered mentally ill or struggling. I think just considering the information, the reality is we all struggle with mental health. Grief, sadness, stress, those all fall under the umbrella of mental health issues and so just getting rid of the stigma and making sure people know that it’s okay and it's acceptable is the same as getting blood pressure treated or diabetes to take care of the body and your mind is part of your body.”

However, the partnership is aware that they will be dealing with the fall out of COVID-19 as stay-at-home orders end. Johns along with Dr. William Carpenter of Capital Region detailed that isolation has likely led to an increase in anxiety among individuals young and old with factors such as depression, domestic violence, substance abuse potentially exacerbating the issue.

“I feel like a lot of it has started with anxiety and fear but because of prolonged social isolation, especially with some of that elderly population who were already at risk for some of that to begin with, it’s just been kind of harder to see their family so they’re at higher risk which has basically contributed to an increased risk of depression,” Carpenter said. “Then the general population with more time at home with the stress has led to an increase of stress in other ways and increased risk of substance use, especially alcohol. There’s also been information coming out about an increased risk in domestic violence right now and I think there is definitely a link between alcohol use and the violence.”

Carpenter went on to emphasize that this is a risky time for those facing addiction as well. With many occupied in quarantine those facing substance abuse could have had easier access to things such as drugs and alcohol. And with in-person support groups minimized due to isolation this could become a much larger issue. However, with that in mind, Carpenter does still highlight the importance for virtual/ online support these individuals can receive as well.

“Because they’re at home more often, they can hide alcohol more easily from their jobs, they’re not driving, support’s been taken away,” Carpenter said. “Support groups have switched to virtual or online which are both highly encouraged right now to consider virtual or online support through recovery apps and online meetings but it’s a higher risk time for those that have access to substance use and for those in recovery.”

Johns also continued stating that a majority of people will unfortunately be dealing with the aftermath COVID-19 and the effects that can have on mental wellness. The stress of this situation extends out into concern over financial stability, physical health, and personal relationships.  

“I think the impact is on everyone,” Johns said. “Maybe the general population didn’t struggle with mental health issues beforehand but there’s going to be an impact regarding stress, fear of illness, or family members getting ill as well as financial stressors. There's a huge financial burden placed on people whether they are employed or unemployed. So, there is the financial stress and the long-term impact from that. I think even of children and adolescents, they’re at a time where brain development involves their social circle and their social relationships and you take that away from adolescents it could definitely put them at more vulnerable for anxiety, depression, and other stressors to trigger symptoms of mental illness.”

Another important detail is that central Missouri will also be facing the one-year anniversary of the tornado that moved through Jefferson City. The trauma from that event predicted to exacerbate the effects that COVID-19 will have as well. Taking all of these factors into consideration, both Johns and Carpenter want the community to know that the Capital Region Medical Center, the United Way, the Anne Marie Project, St. Mary’s Hospital, SSM Health, and the Compass Health Network are always there to provide assistance whether through physical visits or through telehealth and other methods.

“We are available to the community right now and for people that are afraid to be around a health care system this has been a great opportunity to expand our virtual telehealth visits which, while not for everyone, has definitely helped us provide more outreach and our patients have found it to actually be pretty convenient and safe,” Carpenter said. “I’ve seen probably more new patients recently than I have in the last several months and we have been able to do outreach in that way for people that call. This is an opportunity to get help from a psychiatrist if needed probably faster than normal.”

However, their efforts do not stop there as Capital Region Medical Center is offering virtual appointments to patients who need assistance along with their fellow partners. Through these programs the partnership hopes to not only highlight Mental Health Awareness Month but also give as much help to those as possible.

“We have a living in recovery support group and we’re publishing that virtually. I know some of the other organizations in the community are doing the same thing so people are still able to receive support services even if it’s from a virtual standpoint,” Johns said. “The United Way, on their website, have also taken some resources that we have shared with them that are available to the community right now. I think we’ve also gathered some elements from the Anne Marie Project, and Compass health, and they said that are up on their website as part of Mental Health Awareness as well.”