Make Mental Health a Priority In Difficult Months Ahead

With many extremely vulnerable, some can find it hard to find relief.

  • Friday, January 8, 2021 7:41pm
  • Opinion

We continue to watch as the nation grapples with the pandemic as we welcome this new year and wait for a sign that the number of new coronavirus cases is finally subsiding. In the near term, it seems likely that the lashing from this disease may continue unabated, with new cases increasing as a result of holiday travel.

According to Public Health Seattle – King County, though reports of new cases in King County have fallen from about 750 daily in December to about 300 today, hospitalizations and deaths continue to be four times higher than before the last surge, and transmission risk remains high.

Add recent news of the more infectious strain of the virus sending cities across the globe back into lockdown and already arriving in a number of U.S. states, in the middle of a slow roll-out of a long-awaited breakthrough vaccine — and it looks like things will be grim for some time.

Everyone is taking on the reality of this pressure, making tough decisions, many dealing with pain and loss, even though some good may come out of sacrifice. One outcome of the COVID-19 disruption introduced into our lives is that it might reshape the way we talk about mental health in the future.

COVID-19 has driven millions into poverty and has confined millions more, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, who cope with loneliness and watch in fear as our American culture of rugged individualism plays out in the debates over wearing masks, vaccinations and personal freedoms. We know that our ability to curb infection and put an end to this pandemic depends on common sense and better judgment. And it can be distressing to know that things would have been easier if we had only helped ourselves earlier to do what needed to be done.

But even now, there’s help on the island for those who need it. The Vashon Community Care Team has been confidentially helping islanders to confront the challenges of isolation, self-care, relationships and financial hardships that have become more pronounced as a result of COVID-19. To learn more, send an email to vashoncct@gmail.com or call the CCT Helpline from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at (206) 701-0694 and leave a message with your contact information.

Still, with many extremely vulnerable, some can find it hard to find relief.

“Generally, I think we are seeing, as the months go by, a lot of stress and tension in families, kept together in close quarters, students at home doing school, parents at home doing work. Parents are distracted and stressed with the management of small children who would normally be in elementary school or preschool, and the kids are sad because they can’t have play dates,” said Vashon Youth & Family Services Clinical Director Greg Thompson.

In an e-mail, he noted that adolescents are particularly stressed under the circumstances because they were beginning to rely more on peers who are now kept apart from them, except for electronic interactions and Zoom classes. This has caused a number of students to lose their school work initiative, and without social contact with teachers and peers, they feel physically cut off and alone and become depressed, Thompson said.

“I do think, as the data shows, that after several months, we are now seeing an increase in access to our services by youth and their families,” he noted.

In addition, VYFS has also seen a sharp rise in the need for substance abuse care, and the organization has moved to focus on offering outreach and therapy for those who may refuse to seek assistance, with youth and young adult use levels traditionally higher on Vashon compared to neighboring King County communities.

This type of work is being affected by budget cuts across the board, at least in King County — including the Mental Illness and Opioid Dependency Fund, or MIDD, which was set to lose $5 million during the budget process in November due to a reduction in sales tax revenue. Ultimately, the King County Council successfully advocated for the restoration of $2 million.

The economic downturn triggered by the pandemic threatens to slash support for programs that are needed now more than ever. Many who are unable to pay market rates for the support they urgently need will rely more and more on organizations such as VYFS, that need extra funds to fill the gap so that no one is turned away. For more information on how to support this work, visit vyfs.org.


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