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COVID-19 and its impact on mental health: Part One

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 4:55 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - The pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many, including adolescents.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June of 2021, showed just how much adolescents struggled with mental health during 2020.

It also highlights the strain it’s taken on emergency departments across the country.

Staff members at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor have been helping more than a dozen hospitals around the state address the issue.

They’re now working to improve psychiatric care in those facilities.

“The volume dropped substantially, so we were seeing far less people than we usually do between April and June,” explained Jamilyn Murphy-Hughes of Northern Light Acadia Hospital.

With stay-at-home and physical distancing orders put into place in Maine in March of 2020, everything but essential activities came to a halt. That disrupted daily life for us all.

After several months of isolation from friends and family, many started feeling the toll it was taking on their mental health, including adolescents.

“We started seeing more people in the ED’s in mid to late May, but we saw the youth trends a couple months after that. We really started seeing more youth, and we’ve seen that ever since,” said Rick Redmond, LCSW, associate vice president of access and service development for Acadia Hospital.

According to the CDC, during the height of the pandemic, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts began to increase for adolescents ages 12 to 17 years, especially girls.

As the pandemic wore on, that situation became dire for emergency departments across the country.

In March of 2021, Acadia Hospital saw a nearly 50% spike from 2020 in the number of psychiatric consultations provided to 17 partnering Maine hospital emergency rooms for crises.

That included suicidal behavior, self-harm, behavioral outbursts, anxiety, or substance abuse.

“We had times where we’d have what we call a surge where we would bring in extra clinical social workers and extra psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychiatrists, to assist when there were high volumes,” Redmond explained.” We’d be connecting with our partners on a daily basis because a rural emergency department with say six beds, if they have three people with psychiatric conditions and a couple of them are facing psychosis or really upset, it can really put high pressure on an emergency department. We saw at one point at Eastern Maine Medical Center, there were 24 people being treated for psychiatric conditions and that, even in a larger emergency department.”

“We were seeing new kids that we had never evaluated before, really in need of therapy, in-home services, or really anything,” said Murphy-Hughes.

Murphy-Hughes is the Clinical Director of Consult Services at Acadia Hospital.

She oversees teams that provide emergency psychiatric assessments to their partnering 17 Maine hospital emergency rooms.

She says many adolescents get access to services through school.

With many schools shut down, they no longer had that outlet.

In turn, that impacted the child’s entire family unit.

“There’s waitlists that appear to be six to twelve months,” she said. “Some families had said that they were on waitlists for eighteen months for some of the in-home support services in our rural communities, and so, we were really in a struggle of finding something that would meet their needs so that they could go home because a lot of these kids did not need to be in a psychiatric hospital, but they needed something.”

To address the urgent and growing need for psychiatric care in Maine, northern light health announced a proposed upgrade and expansion at Acadia.

The project will create more private rooms at their almost 30-year-old facility.

It will also improve statewide access to care at one of Maine’s two private psychiatric hospitals.

Officials say this project will bring a more modern and therapeutic environment for patients.

We are thrilled to announce a proposed upgrade and expansion of Acadia's adult and pediatric inpatient services to help...

Posted by Northern Light Acadia Hospital on Friday, June 11, 2021

Hospital officials say it’s important to get youth talking.

“Whether it’s a family member, an EAP, or they can go to their primary care provider, and they can get seen by a behavioral health specialist in the practice. Even one, two, or three sessions like that from a professional can really help alleviate the crisis and keep someone at their current level until they can get in for some psychiatry, some med management, and some therapy that is a little bit longer term,” said Redmond.

Acadia Hospital officials say the planning process is underway for the upgrades.

Construction is expected to begin Spring 2022.

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If you or someone you know is experiencing COVID-related stress, StrengthenME offers free stress management and resources to anyone in Maine. For assistance, call 221-8198.

The Maine Crisis Hotline: 1-888-568-1112

If you are not in Maine, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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