COVID-19 related limits have made many Missourians feel cooped up at home. Getting out and staying active serves as an outlet for people, especially those battling drug and alcohol addiction. Missouri Department of Mental Health Director Mark Stringer expects an increase in the number of people who mishandle these substances and who struggle with anxiety and depression problems. He says some of the consequences of the coronavirus can be too much for some people to deal with.
“Like people losing their jobs and having mounting debt and being worried about loved ones, things like that that can really push people over the edge and into some either behaviors that cause some problems later or sooner or some sort of mental illness,” he says.
Stringer says Missouri providers continue to work with those struggling with addiction, even though some traditional group meetings and programming are not available during the health crisis.
“They’re doing it by telephone, by telehealth. They’re doing virtual groups, for example – minimally staying in phone contact with the people they serve. For the general public, there are some pretty good online sources of information. Alcoholics Anonymous’ website has got quite a bit of resources,” says Stringer.
Missouri has four Recovery Community Centers – two in St. Louis, one in Kansas City and one in Springfield. They are a peer-based supportive community for individuals with opiate use disorder. While they may not be physically open or have very limited hours of operation, they too are retooling in light of the physical distancing guidance. These centers are offering recovery services over the phone and using online Zoom conferencing or other online tools for access to both local and national supports.
Some are hoping to re-open on a limited basis, as soon as personal protective equipment becomes more available, and will follow all CDC protective and preventative guidelines. Some of these centers continue to provide access to free naloxone – the opioid overdose reversal agent.
Stringer says there’s been about a 15% to 20% increase in the number of calls through the state’s 24/7 general behavioral health crisis hotline. The Access Crisis Intervention hotline – operated by the state’s Community Mental Health Centers – gets about 70,000 calls per year.
“A lot of those were people who are getting mental health or substance misuse disorder services and are concerned about their services continuing and being able to get the medications they need and things like that,” he says. “But then a lot were new callers too, people who weren’t in our system who were just experiencing a lot of stress and related problems because of this situation we are in.”
The Missouri Coalition for Community Behavioral Healthcare offers a mobile app called MyStrength.
Compass Health Network, a behavioral health organization with sites stretching from western to eastern Missouri, has also created a special Emergency Access Disaster Hotline. If immediate access to services is needed, individuals can call (888) 237-4567 or visit http://compasshealthnetwork.org for more information.
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