Social distancing measures can be effective for avoiding COVID-19 outbreaks that overwhelm our local hospitals. But for many of us in the East Lansing area, these measures are causing stress, depression, and anxiety, and are complicating access to mental health help.
The Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham Counties has announced launch of an online behavioral health screening available 24/7. The Authority assures users that “All responses are completely anonymous, and results, recommendations, and key resources are provided immediately following the brief questionnaire.”
The tri-county Mental Health Authority has also now opened up a new COVID-19 Support Line, available Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 517-237-7100. You can just pick up the phone and call for help – no referral needed – if you are a resident of Ingham, Clinton, or Eaton County.
Although it just recently opened, that tri-county line is getting a consistent volume of calls. That makes sense given the situation.
According to Karla Brintley of The Listening Ear, a crisis intervention center and hotline that services our area, the problem of mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic is twofold: social distancing prohibits in-person counseling just when social isolation is increasing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also introduced new stressors and uncertainty. The Listening Ear has seen calls to its hotline rise by an estimated 10 to 15 percent. Callers often express concern for family members who are more susceptible to the virus, and about job and financial insecurity.
The Listening Ear is still here to listen
The Listening Ear was established in East Lansing 50 years ago for crisis help. While Brintley told ELi that “crisis” implies a one-time call, some users call in regularly – and that’s just fine.
The Listening Ear is staffed by a cadre of volunteers who have undergone 40 to 50 hours of training in The Listening Ear’s empathy model. All calls are anonymous and confidential, and those calling in can receive referrals to community services upon request.
All volunteers have experience helping those suffering from loneliness, grief, depression, and anxiety, which are all currently on the rise. Brintley explained that volunteers listen with a non-judgmental attitude.
“We are here to listen, not to tell anyone what to do or solve their problems for them. We can offer suggestions if they’re wanted, but for the most part we just listen and acknowledge our callers’ feelings.”
Brintley told ELi that The Listening Ear is also able to help callers identify their feelings, since callers sometimes struggle to identify what their feelings are. The number to reach The Listening Ear is 517-337-1717.
Other local services have been changed or disrupted
Some mental health providers in East Lansing have transitioned to providing online or phone services during the pandemic. That’s what’s happened with MSU’s Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), which provides services to MSU students. CAPS has canceled group counseling services, but group leaders have been reaching out to participants.
Clients who have established care through CAPS now have appointments via telephone or Zoom. Those in need of care are able to request a consultation to discuss “connecting [students] with available resources.”
The Couple and Family Therapy Clinic, run by the MSU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, provides affordable counseling on a sliding scale to members of the MSU and East Lansing communities. That clinic did not respond to ELi’s request for comment, however their voicemail recording suggests that patients will be contacted to set up appointments when social distancing restrictions are lessened.
Lansing Psychological Associates, which operates a branch in East Lansing, is triaging patients, according to a notice on their website. How appointments will continue was left up to the counselor and LPA board. The announcement alerted clients that some appointments may “take place over the phone instead. Some patients may be asked to reschedule after LPA re-opens its doors.”
There’s no doubt it can be difficult to establish or continue care with a professional counselor right now. Governor Whitmer has acknowledged the crisis, ordering the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to operate a mental health hotline for Michiganders needing support during the pandemic.
The statewide hotline—which can be reached at 888-733-7753—is open seven days a week between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m.
Some reminders about self-care
The Community Mental Health Authority of Clinton, Ingham and Eaton counties has several suggestions for trying to improve your own mental health.
First, watch yourself for signs of stress. These often include trouble sleeping or eating, difficulty concentrating, increased fear or worrying, irritability, crying, and increased substance use. If you see an uptick in these signs, consider reaching out for help.
Prioritizing physical activity, rest, and pleasurable activities are also crucial to minimizing the negative effects of social isolation and uncertainty.
Brintley of The Listening Ear also suggests lowering expectations and being patient with yourself. The Listening Ear also provides additional advice on how to achieve these goals on its Facebook page.
Here are those phone numbers again:
- Tri-county help: 517-237-7100 (Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
- Statewide help: 888-733-7753 (7 days a week, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.)
- The Listening Ear: 517-337-1717 (available around the clock, every day)