COVID-19 a “potential positive” for how Michiganders receive and perceive mental – Health News Today

This article is part of State of Health, a series about how Michigan communities are rising to address health challenges. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund.


Kevin Fischer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Michigan (NAMI), says the COVID-19 pandemic threw mental health practitioners “a very serious curveball” that’s resulted in a positive transformation in Michiganders’ engagement with their services.


Stay-home orders led to relaxed federal and state regulations that allow mental health providers to use telehealth and virtual sessions with patients, and providers wasted no time in taking advantage of that new flexibility. (Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has indicated that behavioral health services are essential services, making it possible for those who required in-person services during the pandemic to receive them as well.)


“I am really impressed with the way my NAMI affiliates have switched from in-person to virtual programming and how quickly providers were able to ramp up telemedicine,” Fischer says. “I’m also impressed with how people who live with mental health disorders embrace it. I have heard a lot of positive feedback from providers and people who receive services.”

Dr. Debra Pinals.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has developed its own strong online presence for mental health as well. The state has launched a Stay Well website offering mental health resources, a crisis counseling text line (available by texting 741741), and a peer support warmline (available by calling 888-PEER-753). All have been heavily used. The StayWell website has had about 29,000 views, the peer warmline had received 7,354 calls as of late July, and the crisis text line had hosted more than 1,200 conversations with 1,000 texters as of early August.


“We see the activity continuing and that tells us there’s a need out there,” says Dr. Debra Pinals, MDHHS’ medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs. “… This is an unprecedented situation with a lot of uncertainty and worry. [People are] dealing with direct loss of those who have died, plans shifting with work and unemployment, and dealing with kids at home. The loss of graduations and celebrations causes a lot of grief in addition to loss from the virus itself.”


More Michiganders need mental health help


Pinals notes that in Michigan, like everywhere, people are finding themselves increasingly stressed as they experience change, worry, and anxiety. Susan Sheppard, COO of Arbor Circle, a provider of mental health counseling, substance use treatment, and family development programs in West Michigan, agrees.


“We know people are feeling more mental health distress. That’s understandable, given all that we’ve been dealing with,” Sheppard says. “Any time humans’ safety is at risk, our bodies go right into that emergency crisis response, fight-or-flight instinct. For the population we work with,…

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