Mental Health Agencies Open for Business ‘in a Different Way’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – With the number of coronavirus cases increasing in the Mahoning Valley and Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order in effect, mental health experts are working overtime to help people who are experiencing anxiety, worry, panic, social withdrawal, by creating communication platforms and reaching out to existing clients to ease concerns and keep people healthy.

The message from mental health experts is they may be working in a different manner, but they are open for business and assisting clients and the general public through this pandemic. 

Mental Health and Recovery Board directors in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties are working with their provider network who provide services to existing and the public by providing communication updates from state officials, support, resources, and talking with providers on their own mental health needs.

Marcie Patton, director of the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, said the impact of mental health concerns over COVID-19, the disease spread by the coronavirus, is impacting residents on a local level. 

“Many people may be feeling distressed. It is very normal, and even expected, for stress and anxiety to be heightened during times of crisis,” Patton said, pointing out that people who may be experiencing a stronger response to stress at this time include health care professionals, first responders, elderly, children and those with pre-existing mental health or substance use disorders.

Directors want to reassure people that telehealth services have been established and many providers are offering video connections with counselors and case managers.

“We are open for business; it’s just being done if a different way,” said Duane Piccirilli, director of the Mahoning County Mental Health & Recovery Board.

Piccirilli says his management staff is calling providers to make sure operations are running and to see if they need anything as all services are being handled remotely using telehealth.  

“We want the public to know that detox and rehabilitation centers are open and beds are available for people in active addiction and need services,” said April Caraway, director of the Trumbull County Mental Health & Recovery Board.

All emergency psychiatric services in which a person who determined to be in self danger or a danger to others are functioning. Calls are being made to hospitals in advance and admissions are not being handled through emergency rooms to keep people separated from patients presenting through emergency departments who may be presenting with possible COVID-19 symptoms, Caraway said.

Piccirilli said Mercy Health intake personnel are using telehealth and video technology to admit patients in need of psychiatric services or admission to the psychiatric ward, which remains open.

Mahoning County Probate Judge Robert Rusu Jr. remains at the courthouse and the court is open for filings and pleadings being done by phone conferences and issuance of marriage licenses by appointment only. Rusu says anyone coming to the courthouse for official business is screened by deputies, who are performing temperature checks with an infrared device in order to comply with physical distancing.

Rusu says emergency mental health commitments and guardianships are available. He is working with Mercy Health-Youngstown to conduct hearings remotely and has received an $11,000 state grant to purchase equipment for the video hearings as he does not have the capability to conduct them remotely through an encrypted device to comply with confidentiality. 

Help Network has expanded hours for its Warmline, which offers peer-to-peer conversations who just want to talk to someone. 

The number for is 866 303 7337 from noon to 8 p.m. Those hours will expand to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in days to come, said Vince Brancoccio, CEO of Help Network.

He said individuals who need daily crisis/suicide intervention services should call 211, or call 330 747 2696 in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, as well as 330 424 7767 in Columbiana County.

Brancoccio encourages residents to use the agency’s online resource database to free up the 211 crisis lines, because experts are predicting an increase in suicide and crisis calls as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

With schools being closed, many parents are attempting to help children continue their education through remote online learning and weeks-worth of paper homework that was given to students prior to school closures more than a week ago. 

Helping children to understand the situation and how to practice healthy habits of washing hands and social distancing also is a concern to parents. 

Laura Domitrovich, Children’s Program Coordinator for Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board

“Our children may be feeling like their world is upside down right now, and in many ways it is,” Domitrovich says. “As parents, it is our job to help our children feel safe and secure, even during these uncertain and unprecedented times.”

One way to help children feel safe and secure is through knowledge. It is important to share age-appropriate and accurate information about COVID-19, as well as concrete steps that families can do to help decrease the risk of spreading the disease and keeping people safe, she says. One of the first things Domitrovich’s family did was watch a video on proper handwashing.

“At the end of the video, my 12-year-old daughter said in amazement ‘Wow, I didn’t know you could wash away the coronavirus with just soap and water!’ ” Domitrovich says. “It was truly a relief to her to know of a simple thing she could do daily to help reduce risk.”

Another way Domitrovich suggests to help kids feel safe and secure is to create and maintain structure and routine. Children, and adults for that matter, do best with a predictable routine and structure, she says.

She says parents and caregivers can partner with their kids to come up with new daily and weekly routines, such as making time for schoolwork and daily chores, but also creating opportunities to get outside, connect with their friends and extended family through technology, but also implementing some technology-free time. 

“If ever there was a time for family game night, it’s now,” she says. “As parents, we can also create an environment where it is safe for our kids to share their feelings.

“Our kids are experiencing some real losses right now,” she continues. “We as adults may be tempted to trivialize these losses, especially compared to the widespread health and financial concerns that so many are experiencing right now. But we must allow our children to feel whatever it is they are feeling – sadness, frustration, even anger – and not minimize or neglect their feelings.  While we can’t fix this for our children, we can validate their feelings, empathize with them, and do our best to support them through it.”

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