By Guy Page
Mental health suffering in Vermont was rising before the pandemic, and it got worse due to the pandemic’s unprecedented isolation, change, and reduced access to services, state mental health officials recognized at Gov. Phil Scott’s press conference today.
In 2020, there were 903 hospital visits for intentional self-harm and 117 deaths by suicide in Vermont. Vermont’s intentional self-harm and death by suicide rates are significantly higher than the United States rate, the Vermont Department of Health said. Also, drug overdoses are at an alltime high.
911 lifeline calls jumped from an average of 350 calls to 500 this January. Other first-response calls for mental health crises also are up, state officials said.
Children in particular are reaching out for help. “Pre-pandemic there were alarmingly high rates of anxiety and depression,” Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said. “None of those got better during the pandemic, they just got worse.”
State officials announced today that beginning Saturday, Vermonters in mental health crisis and their family members and loved ones will be able to call 988 for Vermont-based counseling and care.
Unlike 911, the 988 hotline is dedicated to suicide prevention and other mental health crises, and is staffed by trained mental health professionals. Vermont’s participation in the national 988 system was enabled by legislation passed this year.
The press conference was also a “bully pulpit” of sorts for state mental health leaders to offer advice.
Please give yourself grace and time,” Alison Krompf, deputy commissioner of the Department of Mental Health, said. “Don’t forget to look for the good out there, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help.”
“A global impact, where everyone was struck at the same time” has “reset” peoples’ lives, Lamoille County Mental Health provider Katina Idol said. It makes sense that in such a time, people were affected.
“Our kids are doing okay. We’re doing okay,” Idol said. “But how do we move beyond okay?”
Idol offered several suggestions, including spending 11 minutes outside. “We live in a beautiful state,” she said. Nutrition, hydration, sleep, recreation, mindfulness and bubble baths help too. And participate in volunteer and faith-based groups – “all these things that help fill you up.”
Gov. Scott drew the connection between the pandemic’s mental health challenges and the growing crime rate – especially drug crime.
“The increase in crime has been exacerbated by the mental health crisis,” he said. Vermont needs to get off the ‘defund the police’ train and do its best to hire high-quality police officers. In recent years “we’ve talked about defunding the police and focusing on the worst actors in that profession. It’s no wonder we’re in this situation.”
Public safety is state government’s #1 priority, and adequate policing is a big part of that, he said. The biggest challenge facing law enforcement is cutting off the out-of-state source of illegal drugs, he said.
Categories: Health Care