Pine Rest Report Predicts Statewide Mental Health Crisis Tied to Pandemic

June 25, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Original publish date: April 27, 2020)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Report numbers updated June 13, 2020

Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services released a report today that contends Michigan will experience a mental health crisis as a result of the aftershocks of COVID-19 and urges healthcare leaders to act now.

Authors offer a range of concrete solutions to address the risks and call on Michigan healthcare providers, public health officers, policy makers, funders, payers and the public to take immediate action.

“The COVID-19 crisis will have a profound impact on the mental health of Michiganders,” said Mark Eastburg, Ph.D., president and CEO of Pine Rest, and one of seven authors of the report. “Due to the swift emergence of the disease and its sweeping impact on our lives and economy, we’re experiencing a rise in many of the stressors that are known to increase risk for suicide.”

The report contends that research into previous epidemics, including the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia, gives us evidence-based warnings about what could happen in Michigan. An analysis of the post-SARS findings – combined with data on the impact that factors such as isolation, unemployment and economic distress, increased substance use, physical health problems and increased access to guns have on suicide rates – point to the predicted 32% increase.

Research suggests that certain groups are at especially high risk, including healthcare providers, surviving caregivers, children and adolescents, older adults, people with pre-existing mental illness, the LGBTQ community and those with autism spectrum disorder.

Fortunately, the SARS research also suggests strategies on how our state can effectively prepare for, and mitigate, the risks.

“We can and must take immediate steps to improve access to care through awareness, affordability, telehealth technology and workforce development,” said Eastburg. “We also need to work

with policy makers and the healthcare community to fix gaps in critical behavioral health infrastructure.”

The first call to action is to the public.

“People experiencing mental health issues or suicidal thoughts should not wait to seek help. They should contact their primary care physician, call the suicide hotline or Pine Rest at 800-678-5500,” said Eastburg. “Help is available.”

The confidential National Suicide Prevention Hotline is free and available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

The report also calls for a comprehensive approach to increase access to care, including scaling up teletherapy and telepsychiatry, informing Michiganders and referral sources about the availability of these care options and how to find them, and maintaining financial incentives such as waivers for co-pays for these services. The report further points out that current healthcare service tracking infrastructure could be quickly retooled to serve as a statewide behavioral health clearinghouse for people seeking these services.

“Shortages in mental health services and providers – particularly in rural Michigan – continue to restrict access to care,” Eastburg points out. “We can increase access by ramping up and reimbursing for teletherapy and telepsychiatry services and by employing readily-available training programs to retrain existing providers and even displaced workers to fill entry level positions in the mental health field.”

Eastburg has shared the report directly with several colleagues and partners in public health and healthcare throughout the state, and his team will continue this outreach in an effort to build awareness and prompt action.

Eastburg co-authored the report with Pine Rest colleagues Mariah DeYoung, L.M.S.W., C.A.A.D.C. substance use director, Outpatient and Recovery Services; Evonne Edwards, Ph.D., clinical director, Outpatient and Recovery Services; Scott Halstead, Ph.D., vice president, Outpatient and Recovery Services; Amy Mancuso, L.M.S.W., Pine Rest Foundation grants manager; Heide Rollings, M.D., program director, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship; Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatrist, Board Certified and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, Michigan State University; and Amy VanDenToorn, L.M.S.W., Campus Clinic manager.

The full report can be found at Rest predicts 32% increase in statewide suicide rates tied to pandemic, WZZM (May 6, 2020)


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