Demand for mental health care has increased significantly, though not surprisingly, since the start of the pandemic. Counseling services have been challenged by this surge but are coming up with new ways to offer help.
Representatives from area counseling services described their experiences with this recent surge to Record-Journal reporter Jessica Simms.
Practices are overwhelmed, clients can be frustrated with long waits and it’s been a stressful time for professionals trying to deliver care. Canceled or missed appointments due to pandemic health concerns have complicated matters, too.
“(The pandemic) really has continued to disrupt lives and impact the way business has been done as we once knew it,” said Elizabeth Calandra, therapist at Silver City Counseling in Meriden. “We really don’t know what to expect day to day ... COVID has taken a toll on people’s relationships, employment, the ability to socialize with family and friends, people have been more isolated and disconnected.”
After starting a waiting list for appointments, Calandra said two additional Silver City locations are planned. However, there is no wait list at this time as virtual appointments have helped meet the need. It took a while for clients to adapt to remote sessions, but now they have embraced them.
Virtual appointments and telephone consultations have become common place in many practices and often this approach can eliminate barriers such as transportation and time constraints.
At Hartford HealthCare, virtual visits have skyrocketed across the healthcare network. In 2019, there were 356 virtual visits, while in 2020, there were 420,000 virtual visits, according to John Santopietro, senior vice president of Hartford HealthCare. Almost 70,000 of these visits were over the telephone.
While COVID-19 has created stressors and exacerbated others, the pandemic has allowed more people to feel comfortable seeking help, according to Laura Saunders, a psychologist with Hartford HealthCare’s Institute for Living.
“It’s created a conversation ... there’s a lot of people struggling with anxiety, isolation, excess worry, financial issues and things that are ticking points for mental health,” said Saunders, noting that providers have experienced some of the same negative effects of COVID as the general population.
The ripple effect of the pandemic into mental health has been tough to accommodate, but counseling services have gone a long way towards meeting the demand. Another positive takeaway is that people are recognizing their need for extra support and taking steps to get help.