Vt. mental health providers look back at pandemic response

Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 6:08 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - After nearly a year into the pandemic, Vermont mental health providers say the state’s residents have proved resilient despite the myriad challenges they face.

Dan Hall, director of outpatient services at the Howard Center in Burlington, says that when the coronavirus pandemic first hit there was a sort of lull in services because of not being able to meet in person. Organizations like the Howard Center quickly adapted with services like telehealth, and the demand returned

“I would say most recently, nine to 10 months into this, we have actually seen an increase and an uptick overall, even where we were pre-pandemic,” Hall said.

Although people are getting help, more work could be done. Hall says that patients who were already struggling with mental health and substance abuse have seen some dark times in recent months, exemplified by the increase in overdoses related to heroin and fentanyl. “I think it’s been a hard time for people in recovery and people struggling with mental health,” he said.

“At this point, we are seeing a real increase with people trying to access care,” said Alison Krompf with the Vermont Department of Mental Health. She says the complex needs of mental health-related hospitalizations are up during the pandemic as well as just people reaching out for help. “Folks calling and saying. ‘I need to talk to somebody.’”

But Krompf says the state moved quickly to make sure access would be available during the uncertain times. That included emergency legislation allowing out-of-state providers to practice telehealth in the state without a Vermont license. “I think that Vermont has been a leader and we are fairly progressive in the way that we look at health care and we see mental health as a part of health care,” she said.

And with many questions remaining about when life will get back to ‘normal,’ Krompf says more work needs to be done. “A lot of folks are going to be dealing with a mental health aftermath,” she said.

But there are some positives. Krompf says suicide rates have remained relatively stable despite fears of an increase. She says she finds optimism in Vermonters’ resilience through it all. “They found ways to talk to their family, they connected with people they maybe haven’t talked with in a while. You have grandparents Zoom in a way they never used to,” she said.

Both Krompf and Hall say help is available for all those who need it. “There continues to be support that things are out there. I mean they changed, but the options and the support are still there,” Hall said.

“We all just need to sit and normalize the fact that a lot of us are not OK, and that’s OK,” Krompf said.

For help, contact “COVID support VT,” by dialing 2-1-1.

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