CEDAR RAPIDS — The pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health and in some cases even created new barriers for people already dealing with mental health issues.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll conducted in mid-July, 53 percent of adults in the United States reported their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. This is significantly higher than the 32 percent reported in March, the first time this question was included in the polling.
“I think it’s safe to say that this has been a pretty tough year for everyone in one way or another,” said Drew Martel, crisis service director with Foundation 2, a local nonprofit that offers crisis prevention and intervention programs to people of all ages.
“We have seen an increase in challenges individuals are facing, including lost housing, changes in employment, and other instabilities,” Martel said. “ ... With so much economic stress, virtually everyone has struggled with their mental health. Mobile crisis is one of few resources providing on-site counseling services at any time, for anyone.”
Mobile crisis counselors with Foundation 2 have been providing services — whether they be virtual or in person — non-stop, despite the pandemic, which is one of the reasons the organization’s mobile crisis team recently was named the sole recipient of the national 2021 AAS Award for Mobile Crisis Outreach Program.
“It’s really, really exciting for us,” Martel said. “There are a lot of mobile crisis programs out there and to be recognized nationally in the field that we work in is a really big deal for us.”
The award from the American Association of Suicidology recognizes Foundation 2’s distinctive model of mobile crisis service, Martel said, “but also the extraordinary kind of service our employees did in the middle of the pandemic and immediately following the derecho.”
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There are a few aspects that make Foundation 2’s mobile crisis unit distinctive, Martel said.
“One of them is that we have financial means testing,” he said. “We believe crisis services should be available to anyone, anywhere, anytime. ... We don’t ask you for insurance, there’s no payment, our services are free regardless of where you are, as long as you’re within our service area.”
The second thing is the counselors.
“Most of our mobile crisis counselors — and they are really the people that deserve credit for this award, so I just want to make sure that is clear — they work on-call for us,” Martel said. “We have very few full-time mobile crisis counselors. Our team is made up of professionals who moonlight for us, who work all over our communities in different full-time capacities. They are school counselors and therapists and substance abuse counselors and they are probation officers or they work in the medical field. And on top of that, they work on call for us.”
Between the pandemic and the Aug. 10 derecho, Martel said people have struggled to shoulder a wide variety of stressors.
“I would say the common theme of what most people have been experiencing is loss,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of grief, stress from the loss of control and loss of a sense of normalcy or security. And people are also dealing with financial stress, loss of work, the kids being home — it’s been a lot for people to deal with.”
Foundation 2’s mobile crisis unit has fluctuated between in-person services and telehealth options while prioritizing mental and physical health needs. In-person services resumed Dec. 14.
“Mental health service delivery is challenging in a normal year, but compounded with a global pandemic and a derecho, the issues are increasingly complex and will last for months and years to come,” said Emily Blomme, the foundation’s chief executive.
When the storm hit, Martel said counselors were out in the field within hours.
“We had counselors who lost their homes — I mean literally lost their entire home — and they were out providing service. Pretty much immediately, our teams were back up and running, and what they wanted to do — it’s something they asked to do.”
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In the weeks following the storm, Martell said Foundation 2 had mobile crisis teams at city resource centers for 10 hours a day for as many as four weeks.
“I mean, that’s kind of the dedication these teams have had throughout the pandemic and during the storm,” Martel said.
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