As time wears on, it has become increasingly clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on collective mental health.
A 2020 report from the CDC showed that U.S. adults experienced elevated levels of anxiety and depression during Covid-19, and the levels were highest among people aged 18 to 24.
According to the report, over 60% of adults 18-24 reported experiencing anxiety and depression, and one in four admitted to contemplating suicide.
The impact of quarantines and mask-wearing on the mental health of school-aged children and adolescents has been a major talking point both nationally and locally upon returning to the classroom this fall.
And that seems to be having severe impacts.
The Sheet recently got in touch with Mono County Behavioral Health (MCBH) Director Robin Roberts to get a run down on what providing health services has been like during the course of the pandemic.
Roberts gave a general update on Mono County’s mental health.
MCBH has seen a significant increase in need from the community since the pandemic started in 2020. They have particularly seen an uptick in calls to their emergency hotline, which assists people who are actively suicidal, homicidal, or
in need of immediate psychological evaluation.
Following the national trend, the majority of those calling the hotline have been young people and adolescents. There have been more women than men calling, which is also typical.
“It seems as though people have gotten to a point where they are unable to handle uncomfortable feelings the way they could when they were used to being connected with each other,” said Roberts, “We are hard-wired to connect and the pandemic has completely uprooted this. When we are unable to connect, we cannot cope with things that we otherwise could deal with.”
In a sense, people become less resilient.
Since human beings need to connect to something, when they are deprived of that connection, they find alternatives to connect to. This may be alcohol, marijuana, opioids, gambling, pornography, you name it.
Just like the national trends, Mono County has seen an increase in substance abuse.
According to Roberts, alcohol is not only Mono County’s most commonly abused substance, but alcohol abuse is by far the biggest mental health concern in the county.
“We’ve been seeing more and more people with anxiety issues from the pandemic turn to alcohol. The alcohol dependency soon takes on a life of its own, and then you have a dual problem. It’s all very predictable and it’s pervasive around here,” she said.
She added that parents’ propensity to provide their underage children with alcohol, which is common in Mono County, is the worst thing that they could do for their child’s mental health during this time.
MCBH has 25 employees all together and they are struggling against burnout.
Although the department is serving a relatively large community for the number of available staff, there are many people who don’t even qualify for their services.
This is because MCBH only takes on regular clients who qualify for Medi-Cal or are indigent (in need). Anyone whose income is above Medi-Cal standards ($17,774 for an individual and $36,570 for a family of four) needs to find regular help elsewhere.
“It’s really a flawed system. Most of the people who find themselves in the middle aren’t able to get affordable help,” she said, “And that’s most people that live full time in Mammoth; they’ll end up working three jobs to pay the rent and then all of a sudden they don’t qualify for us to help them.”
People looking for therapy/psychiatric help who don’t qualify for MCBH therefore have to seek out private therapists.
Research has revealed that there are not too many private therapists located around Mammoth.
Going online, The Sheet found about 15 different names, all of whom were reached out to and left a voicemail for. So far, only one has returned the call.
The remaining option is to seek out virtual therapy.
There’s an online platform called “Betterhelp” that works to put people in touch with therapists virtually and is only $60 a week, which beats a traditional in-office therapy cost of $150-$180.
People can send audio, video, or text messages to your therapist at any time in the messaging room they provide. They can also schedule weekly live sessions (30 to 45 minutes) with your therapist to communicate via phone, video, or live chat.
“Betterhelp” has been advertised on platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok- the same platforms that cause many young people’s mental health to decline.
“Betterhelp” is just one of many online mental health platforms that have been cropping up over the past year.
But if the root of the mental health issues is lack of human-to-human contact, how much can virtual therapy really fix?
Young people are struggling mentally across the country and Mono County is no exception.
Without too many options available for getting consistent help, it is understandable why the emergency hotline has become so active- people are holding it all in until they break.