To the editor:

We should take a moment to highlight the challenges and victories for mental health services in DeKalb County over the last year. COVID-19 was a challenge for health care in general, but mental health easily wins the award for the roughest time during this pandemic.

Many mental health and primary care offices were closed for some time through 2020. These services tried to adjust. Some of these services are amenable to virtual visits but many are not. Some services in the area thrived and some folded. This changed the availability and stability of mental health services in our community. The emergency departments and mental health inpatient units stayed open throughout 2020 but also had to adjust how and who could receive services that were often needed.

This came to a head in the late summer of 2020 when, like other areas of the country, we saw an increase in emergent mental health cases and overdoses. We also saw many new patients with unresolved anxieties and new onset depression. Many mental health patients either had limited access to or even avoided services. I heard from several of my colleagues who became alarmed by conversations of how well we are doing with mental health and that emergency detentions are down in DeKalb County. Our staff and collaborators have been resilient and have done extremely well but we are not yet thriving or self reliant. A large percentage of our patients are having to go to Allen County for mental health services especially during mental health crisis and emergencies.

We still have a lot of needs including how we handle the worsening drug abuse. This is in large part abuse of opioids like heroin but does include alcohol, methamphetamines, and new potent psychosis inducing marijuana-based products. We still have needs for helping with homelessness and poverty. There are a lot of opportunities for taking mental health care access out to the community such as outreach clinics and expanding counseling services for both youth and adults.

A lack of support for emergency detention for people having mental health crisis creates a struggle to help the most endangered individuals. There is a clear need for increased facilities for patients that have the potential to cause harm to themselves or others during their crisis.

If anything has been learned through this pandemic it is that day-to-day interventions and counseling are extremely important to the patients and our community. History has taught us by improving access and opportunities, through good services every day, we can really support the mental health of DeKalb County.

Tyler Johnson, DO

Emergency medicine

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