Marin County Expands Virtual Mental Health Services Amid Covid-19

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Anyone feeling overwhelmed can take steps to improve mental health every day.

The ongoing outbreak of Covid-19 is stressful for many in Marin County and the state as new cases continue to be recorded and social distancing continues to be a way of life.

Coping with that stress can become difficult as the weeks stretch out into months, especially since experts agree that staying emotionally connected as a community is critical to maintaining mental health.

For providers of behavioral health services throughout Marin County, the public health emergency has affected demand for service as well as the means by which that service can be delivered.

In the wake of sheltering-in-place orders and social distance requirements, Marin County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (BHRS), a division of the Marin County Health and Human Services Department, is expanding its mental health Internet and phone services–collectively called video telehealth.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic constantly evolving, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, afraid, isolated, and hopeless, and it’s crucial to remember that taking care of our mental and emotional well-being is just as important as taking care of our physical health,” said Dr. Jei Africa, Director of BHRS, in a statement.

Africa notes that Marin BHRS saw an initial decrease in the number of mental health and substance abuse services at the beginning of the shelter-in-place order as people stayed home. However, the staff is now seeing a gradual increase in demand throughout many of its programs.

Additionally, health organizations throughout Marin have seen similar patterns with the need for increased telehealth services and higher demands for services.

In a joint statement, representatives from five major Marin health care providers recently outlined the ways in which the public health emergency has affected service.

At the same time that Marin County BHRS services shifted to telehealth and phone services to continue offering care while maintaining the health and safety of clients and staff in March, Marin Community Clinics moved to telehealth for psychotherapy, recovery services and other case management services. MCC also recently hired additional staff to respond to the increased demand for services.

MarinHealth continued to focus on providing safe access to behavioral healthcare at the pandemic’s outset. MarinHealth’s outpatient programs transitioned to telehealth on March 23, and remain completely virtual now.

Kaiser, Coastal Health Alliance, Sutter Health and Marin City Health and Wellness Center have also been providing behavioral health services over telephone and video visits to ensure the safety of the community and the staff during the pandemic.

As demand for mental health resources continue to rise, these Marin agencies and others are now organizing a virtual event for late July or August to come together and hear more about responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and what additional patterns are emerging for behavioral health needs in Marin.  The goal is to prepare for the emerging needs in Marin County and develop additional ways to support residents. 

Marin health officials note that anyone feeling overwhelmed with Covid-19 news can take steps individually to improve their mental health every day with small actions.

These activities include talking with friends, family and other personal support systems, exercising, eating balanced and healthy meals, taking a break from stressful tasks, making a list of things that one is grateful for, maintaining a routine and getting a good night’s sleep.

All of these steps can be helpful in boosting emotional health, though if anyone feels like they are in need of more assistance, BHRS is always open and regularly offers free online public workshops. Sessions range from suicide prevention conversations to support for suicide loss survivors to parenting support to a LGBTQ+ town hall. Any resident experiencing a mental health or substance use issue can call the 24-hour, confidential access line at 1-888-818-1115.

For more information on mental health resources in Marin, visit marinhhs.org/bhrs.

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