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LAC discusses mental health amid pandemic

 

Last updated 10/13/2020 at 11:51am



Hill County Public Health Director and Health Officer Kim Larson was invited to a meeting of the Hill County Behavioral Health Local Advisory Council Monday to discuss what she felt the health department needed help with from a mental health perspective amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Larson said the primary thing LAC could do to help her department and the county is assist in the creation of a mental health resource guide that people affected by COVID-19 can use to get the help they need.

She said council member Amber Spring, a counselor at Montana State University-Northern has been helping with this project already.

The health department wants to make sure everyone who is quarantined or isolated due to COVID-19 gets the guide and mental health resources they need, Larson said, like phone numbers for services as well as for basic needs like grocery delivery.

However, she said she doesn’t want to focus exclusively on people who have gotten the disease or are stuck at home because they are a close contact of someone who has, since the pandemic situation can affect anyone’s mental health.

“I believe that we are missing a big portion of our community,” she said. “COVID-19 doesn’t necessarily just affect people who are quarantined or isolated due to it.”

Resources list

Spring said she and LAC Chair Andi Daniel have been working on compiling resources for people affected by the pandemic, which are not just crisis hotlines and therapy referrals, but advice on self-care techniques and stress management that can help anyone.

Spring said these resources can be helpful for people who aren’t really aware of mental health issues to normalize some of the thoughts and feelings that they have, especially amid a stressful situation like the pandemic.

She said the document she’s working on contains techniques and suggestions for people in quarantine and under stress to take care of their bodies and minds.

This includes coping skills like productive distraction and self-soothing techniques, which she said are especially useful for people trapped at home.

Spring suggested people, especially those who work a lot in their normal lives engage in activities that feel productive like cooking a meal or organizing a shelf, and said those are a good way to distract yourself from the everyday stress.

She said books and movies and other things are fine distractions as well, especially if they are engaging.

Spring said the document she’s working on is still a work in progress and she’s looking for feedback from the other members of the council before finishing it.

She said she’s also working with the Dean of Students at MSU-Northern on a version specific to students as their available resources and circumstances might be different from most people.

Larson also talked about a recent grant the county received from the Addictive and Mental Disorders Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services of at least $10,000, which has been allotted for things like the promotion of mental health services, and suicide awareness during the pandemic.

Larson said there is still some work to be done before these funds become usable.

She said the health department and LAC can work together on some kind of outreach plan using these funds, which will be especially important in the times ahead given Hill County’s recent surge of COVID-19 and so many people being in quarantine.

Business closures

Larson said the health department isn’t imposing business closures, but the situation in Hill County being what it is, closures may still happen. In the past two weeks many businesses in the Havre area have closed because they have too many employees in quarantine or because they want to look out for the public’s health.

“Our numbers are skyrocketing at the moment, and we really need to slow them down,” she said. “I feel like that could be another hit on the mental health part of all of our lives. We’re all kind of struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and it is there, but I think it’s pretty dim right now.”

She said the health department’s online referral system for mental health services is up and running, but it’s not being used as much as she hoped.

Other LAC activities

Members of LAC also provided updates on their activities in the past months and voted on the uses of the funds that would be provided by the grant Larson discussed.

LAC Treasurer Darlene Sellers said the organization recently received a deposit from Western Montana Mental Health of $929 and the council sent a donation to NAMI Havre of $100.

She said she’s also working with the counseling students at Northern to create psycho-education events and support groups for people who need them.

LAC Member and NAMI Havre President Crystal Laufer thanked the council for the donation and said this has been an excellent year for her organization.

“We doubled this year in money, and made $946, so that was a plus,” she said.

She said NAMI Havre is trying to figure out how to do classes on Zoom, and they are getting assistance from NAMI in Helena to make that work.

She said the organization is looking at running statewide classes as well.

Laufer also said the organization's conferences will go on starting Wednesday at 6 p.m. on Zoom and will run twice a month through February.

She said anyone interested in attending can get in touch with her for information.

Suicide awareness coalition

Spring also provided an update on the Suicide Awareness Coalition.

She said she wants to do outreach to the agriculture community this winter, given how pervasive suicide is among people in the industry. However, given everything that’s going on she said she likely won’t be able to start that until after the semester.

Spring also said she’s gotten quite a few people attending her recent online QPR suicide prevention courses and she’s had a lot of requests for more workshops.

She said the next one is Oct. 21 and is being advertised, but there hasn’t been much interest in it just yet.

Daniel said funds from the AMDD grant could be used for QPR workshops and the council voted unanimously to allocate 500 dollars to them.

The board voted unanimously to use funds from the grant to set up multiple Zoom accounts so they can run event simultaneously if need be.

 

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