BEMIDJI -- May marks Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States, and during the last year, the topic has been increasingly brought to the forefront due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Shannah Mulvihill, executive director of Mental Health Minnesota, said the public has become more aware of mental health issues in the last 12 months. Both the need for social isolation and the stress that has come with the pandemic contributed to the awareness.
"We provide online mental health screenings and we saw those go up month-by-month by 600% to 700% in 2020 over 2019," Mulvihill said. "I think what we want now during this Mental Health Awareness Month is an increased understanding that it's OK to talk about mental health and to recognize if you're having a hard time."
Dr. Jerrod Spring, a general adult psychiatrist at Sanford Behavioral Health, said the awareness that has been raised needs to translate to people seeking help if they need it.
"I think the awareness is largely there, but what's staggering is of the people who identify having depression or anxiety, the percent of them who did not receive any treatment is still 56% in the United States," Spring said. "So, the focus isn't on identifying mental illness anymore as much as destigmatizing treatment."
Ashlea McMartin, director of community based services for Sanford Behavioral Health, also said people in the community should be ready to step up and suggest mental healthcare options.
"It's one thing to learn about it and read about it," McMartin said. "It's another thing to really, truly ask how someone is doing and listen with intent on what someone has to say, and then share those resources. We can educate and be present as much as possible, but real change will happen at the ground floor in caring about each other enough when people are going through those hard times."
Outside of hub communities in the state like Bemidji, though, mental health resources can be scarce. Mulvihill said getting treatment options into more rural areas has been an effort by the organization recently.
"It's certainly something we acknowledge that we have to just do a lot better on," Mulvihill said. "It is a lot harder to find a mental health provider in Greater Minnesota, it's just the reality. I think there have been some movement around telehealth certainly during the pandemic and we have really been advocating to maintain the things that were kind of made temporary with telehealth."
While Mulvihill acknowledged telehealth options aren't a fix for everyone, Mulvihill said it does provide a solution for a segment of the population.
"You no longer need to find a provider within a 30-minute drive," Mulvihill said. "We're also continuing to look at what we might be able to do to expand the mental health workforce, such as loan forgiveness to work in areas with fewer providers. We want to do those initiatives to make sure we're meeting needs everywhere in our state."