COVID's other impact: Mental health experts say number of those in need of treatment has gone up over pandemic

Mental health treatment providers state that stressors from the pandemic has resulted in more people reaching out for help. As the winter goes on, experts say it's important to seek help for mental health issues early on.

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BEMIDJI -- The past year hasn't been easy on anyone, and added stress from the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts has increased the need for mental health awareness.

According to Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Ashlea McMartin, research conducted in the last several months has shown higher rates of anxiety and depression. McMartin, clinical manager of Sanford Health's Community Based Mental Health Services, said multiple studies have shown that people are experiencing more depression and anxiety, and are being referred to mental health and behavioral health services.

"Depending on the age range, a person is at greater risk of dying from suicide than COVID-19," McMartin said. "I don't mean to say that and undermine the risk of COVID, but I think it's important to recognize, in the culture we live in today, just what isolation can mean for certain age groups."

Annette Pommila, a crisis line specialist for 211 First Call For Help, also noted the increase in the public reaching out for help.

"Since the pandemic has started, the crisis calls are up," Pommila said. "There's a lot of mental health calls, with people calling in about anxiety. Financial needs have been a stress on people. Resource needs have also gone up, with people trying to find help with housing and utilities. People are struggling right now for sure."


Based in Grand Rapids, First Call is one of four 211 hubs in Minnesota. The program acts as both a call center for crisis situations and provides referrals for local food shelves, day care options and other programs. According to Pommila, the program has recently added more employees with more calls expected in the coming winter months.

McMartin also said the cold Minnesota winter months will likely be tougher for people.

"During the summer, we were able to be much more active, and able to do outdoor activities, get that Vitamin D from the sun and we weren't cooped up," McMartin said. "Now we're in this third wave and you hear the expression of 'COVID fatigue.' That's creating stressors for people that aren't typically there.

"We see this greater amount of isolation now, so what I tell people is to really shift from a problem focus to a solution focus," McMartin said. "If you fall into a class that's high risk or you're someone whose plans for Christmas have changed, ask how you can keep some things the same and how to adapt and do other things differently. How can we acknowledge those two things, and appreciate both."

An important thing to remember for those going through any type of struggle mentally, McMartin said, is to seek out help early on.

"If we think about all of the stressors that we're going through, and the idea that we have to tackle them, any big project is easier when we start it earlier," McMartin said. "If we notice early on that we're struggling, or someone close to us is struggling, help reach early to establish some services, whether it's through a crisis line or a primary care provider."

One call option McMartin offered is a mental health crisis line at 1-(800) 422-0045.

"That number isn't just for those experiencing the highest level of suicidal ideation, it's really for when you talk about early initiation," McMartin said. "If you're not doing well now, the call can help even just to open the conversation around what help would look like."


Other help numbers include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 and the the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention line at 1-(888) 333-2377.

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