HANCOCK COUNTY — The year 2020 has been taxing, to say the least.
For those who struggle with mental health, the year of unexpected challenges can seem insurmountable at times.
Mental health providers throughout Hancock County have had a busy year keeping up with the increased need for services.
The pandemic, skyrocketing unemployment and social unrest have brought an increased number of people to seek mental and emotional support.
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Kim Hall, executive director at Mental Health Partners of Hancock County, has increased her hours to pick up the extra workload.
A new support navigator was recently hired at the Healthy365 Connection Center in Greenfield to help manage the increasing number of calls from people seeking support for mental health and other issues.
The caseload has also picked up at counseling centers like Rugged Grace Counseling in Greenfield, where two family therapists provide guidance for those struggling in various areas of life.
“I think that the need (for mental health services) has always been there, but COVID has definitely taken that need to a higher level of significance for a variety of reasons,” said Amanda Hinkle, Healthy Community Manager for Healthy365.
According to Hall, statistics show one out of four people suffer from some sort of mental or emotional illness. “Our mission is to help you find hope where you don’t think hope exists anymore,” she said.
The added stress and isolation caused by this year’s pandemic can exacerbate existing mental health problems, Hall said. For example, she’s fielded calls from two clients who are experiencing domestic violence brought on by the increased amount of time spent at home this year.
“They were seeking counseling because they recognized they had a problem, and they could feel the patterns from previous relationships, so they sought help,” Hall said.
Stressed-out adults aren’t the only ones who need help. Children are also in need of additional support this year, as the threat of COVID-19, social isolation and virtual learning has made life more challenging, in addition to the fallout that might be felt from parents struggling with job loss or financial woes.
“It’s certainly been a tough year for everyone,” said Hall, who connects individuals and families with locally available resources like mental health counselors and substance abuse programs, among other things.
The Healthy365 Connections Center staff does the same for those who call in.
Since its opening in January, the agency has fielded calls from 281 clients seeking help in a variety of areas. Support navigators help get them connected with the right resources.
“They can help walk alongside families through any struggles they are encountering, and follow up to ensure they stay on that right path,” Hinkle said.
Stephanie Gustin, a therapist at Rugged Grace, has fielded more calls than ever this year from individuals and families seeking mental health support. Gustin conducts virtual counseling appointments in the evenings, which tends to work better into many people’s schedules, she said.
No matter what the issue, Gustin hopes those in need will reach out to learn more about mental health support systems in the county.
Even though in-person appointments and face-to-face support groups have been interrupted due to COVID-19, many counselors and therapists like her have begun offering telehealth appointments virtually — through Zoom calls, FaceTime and by phone.
Getting help from a professional through a video screen is far better than not getting help at all, Gustin said, especially in such trying times. Recognizing the need for help is the first step.
Next week, Healthy365 will hold its annual emotional health and wellness workshop to address mental health needs in a variety of areas. While the workshop is typically held at local schools, it’s being held virtually this year.
The event — called Rise Above It — is for adults and children 12 and older.
Workshops start at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. each night, from Sept. 21-24. Each one will cover a different topic, like anxiety; addiction; anger management; depression; food and mood; and grief and loss.
The workshops allow people to learn about whichever topics they want through 30-minute presentations, Hinkle said. Participants get the chance to ask questions at the end through an on-screen chat box.
Those seeking support should log in at behealthy365.org/riseaboveit.
The workshop is one of many educational opportunities Healthy 365 offers throughout the year. The agency also offers a Suicide Prevention Training class. The next class is on Nov. 5.
“These are free, two-hour suicide prevention training classes that are open to anyone,” said Hinkle, who hopes a number of people will attend.
“Suicide training is like CPR training — the more people that are trained, the more lives can be saved,” she said.
Hall knows all too well how prevalent suicide can be, especially in stressful times. Before becoming director of Mental Health Partners in 2015, she worked 10 years as a bank supervisor. Five customers took their own lives during that time.
“One man had come to us for a loan in order to send his son to rehab, but he got turned down, and the son eventually overdosed and died. The man later took his own life because he felt like he failed his son by not getting him into rehab, because he couldn’t afford to get him the help he needed,” said Hall, who is still haunted by the memory.
“I had five customers take their life. If these people had known about resources out there, they might still be here,” she said.
A lot has changed in the past 10 years, said Hall, and society is starting to have a more open dialogue about the realities of mental health challenges.
While some of those challenges can be hereditary, others can be passed on through influences inside the home.
“A lot of times a person has grown up and all they see is their parents using drugs, for example, so that’s all they know. They think that’s how you’re supposed to go through life, with alcohol and drugs, and living with the abuse, so they don’t know anything different from that,” she said. “That’s why you can’t just assume everybody knows right from wrong, because they don’t.”
Hall often encounters clients who grow tired of their struggles and quit taking medication to manage conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Others turn to recreational drugs as a way to cope.
“A lot of times they self-medicate rather than seeking professional guidance, and that drug use often leads them to jail,” said Hall, who recalls one client who was a single mom trying to keep up with her job while driving her kids to a variety of after-school activities.
“She ended up using meth as a way to cope and ended up in jail. She’s clean and sober now, and she’s on the right path and has her kids back,” Hall said.
It’s getting people back on the right track that is the challenge, she said.
Often, one mental health challenge can lead to others. Anxiety can lead to depression, which can lead to substance abuse or suicide, Hall said.
“When people are depressed, they want a high to feel good. Say they’ve lost their job, so they’re depressed and they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. It can snowball downhill badly,” she said.
At Mental Health Partners, she works with a wide range of people, from working men and women who need help juggling life’s demands, to those looking for a fresh start when getting out of jail.
A few years ago, she started a program to help newly released prisoners, connecting them with resources to meet their new needs, from clothing to housing and transportation. She can help them make appointments for job interviews, substance abuse treatment and mental health support.
Hall also helped create the Heroin Protocol program for addicts serving jail time, and later helped create the New Life Journey program for addicts who aren’t serving time.
She facilitates the distribution of personal care boxes for those in need of toiletries and self-care items, and has given out so many kits this year she’s run out and is seeking donations to make more.
Mental Health Partners also coordinates financial assistance for counseling and medication and helps get clients into drug treatment programs and recovery centers.
The nonprofit also runs a Survivors of Suicide group that is starting to meet again, in limited numbers to accommodate social distancing.
A full list of local support groups, counseling centers and 24-hour help lines can be found on Healthy 365’s website, at behealthy365.org/about/system-of-care.
Mental health issues can affect anyone, said Hall, no matter their age or background. Sometimes it takes a caring friend or family member to steer them toward the help they need.
“With the people you’re in contact with the most, if you notice changes in them, try talking to them,” she said. “If you find they need help, connect them to the resources that are available.”
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Here is a list of agencies and programs that can assist with mental health issues:
Healthy365 Connections Center
Healthy365 will hold its annual Rise Above It conference on Sept. 21-24. Workshops start at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. each night. Each one will cover a different topic, like anxiety; addiction; anger management; depression; food and mood; and grief and loss. More information is available at behealthy365.org/riseaboveit
Mental Health Partners of Hancock County
98 E. North St., Greenfield
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Rugged Grace Counseling
317-698-3599 and 317-586-2261
1551 E. New Road, Greenfield (inside Brandywine Community Church)
Primary care physicians also can refer patients for care at a number of medical practices in the county that offer mental health treatment. For a listing of 24-hour help lines, support groups and counseling centers, visit: behealthy365.org/about/system-of-care