Vendors Struggling With Rise In Mental Illness | Messages

It was in many ways expected that the pandemic – and the isolation, fear and death it brought with it – would lead to a surge in people seeking treatment for mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

This was certainly the case in northeast Tennessee, where behavioral health and primary care physicians have seen a significant increase in the number of people reporting symptoms of mental illness and seeking treatment for them. For some, this surge was greater than what they expected and prepared for.

“We kind of prepared ourselves because we knew the conditions were right for an increase in need,” said Diane Bowen, Frontier Health’s chief operating officer, “so we weren’t surprised, but it’s actually in some ways more than.” we thought it would be.”

Bowen said that in Frontier’s 2018-19 fiscal year, 1,520 people sought treatment. That total is expected to more than double this fiscal year, and is expected to total 3,294 patients in fiscal 2021-22. Brown attributed the surge to multiple factors, including isolation, change in routine, anxiety, concern for loved ones, and death.

“I think that really weighed on people,” Bowen said.

The World Health Organization reported earlier this month that the pandemic has led to a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide and that young people are at disproportionately high risk of suicide and self-harm. A study published in September 2020 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the prevalence of depression symptoms among adults in the United States increased from 8.5% before the pandemic to 27.8% from March 31 to April 13, 2020.

A subsequent study published in the Lancet Regional Health Journal in January 2022 found that the prevalence of depression symptoms has continued to increase since the 2020 study, from 27.8% in March-April 2020 to 32.8% in March -April 2021.

dr David Moulton, medical director of quality at State of Franklin Healthcare Associates, said in an interview earlier this month that there has been an increase in the number of patients with mental health problems and that the treatment of mental health problems has “become more of a factor in home visits.” Moulton said some of the surge can be directly attributed to COVID-19 and the ongoing impact of the virus, but noted the impact is being felt among the general public and not just those who have had the virus.

“They find that primary care has to do a lot of behavioral health assessments and[prescribe]medication,” Moulton said.

According to Moulton, SoFHA instituted a pre-visit questionnaire to screen patients for signs of major depression and generalized anxiety disorder, which has helped identify these patients more quickly and start them on medication or refer them to cognitive behavioral therapy.

dr Kevin Metzger, a GP with Holston Medical Group, said he’s seen a “huge rise” in people being diagnosed with mental health issues or in need of treatment. Metzger said he’s received a lot of “on-the-job” training dealing with mental health issues over the past two years and has had to keep track of treatments and medications, as well as help connect people with counselors and other resources in to bring in contact.

“Mental health is a big part of my practice,” Metzger said.

Bowen says Frontier has been working for several years to increase its presence in primary care practices, and caregivers are also using telehealth services — both to help destigmatize mental health issues and make people feel more comfortable with one doctor to talk about it. Frontier is also working to address the mental health impact of the pandemic on children, using almost enough school-based counselors to have one in every school in northeast Tennessee.

While needs have risen in the region, staffing levels have not increased – further straining a mental health care system facing what Bowen described as a crisis. Bowen said Frontier has raised salaries to retain and attract employees and has lobbied for the state legislature to increase funding for community mental health centers.

“I will say this: We are in a crisis that we have never experienced before,” Bowen said.

If you or someone you know is going through a crisis, Frontier Health has a 24-hour Crisis Hotline at (877) 928-9062. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741.

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