Tips on identifying and responding to a mental health crisis during COVID-19

Simple Health

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The changes and concerns that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic are enough to test the well being and mental health of most people — with job losses, school closures and pressing health concerns, many people have a great deal to process. But how can you tell when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and needs intervention?

As part of KXAN’s continued coverage on addressing mental health amid COVID-19, we spoke with Integral Care, the organization that supports those with mental illness, substance use disorder and intellectual and developmental disabilities in Travis County.

Laura Wilson Slocum, the Practice Administrator of Crisis Services, Justice Initiative, and Disaster Response at Integral Care, explained that the sudden and drastic changes that have come with COVID-19 have impacted everyone’s mental health.

Wilson Slocum oversees crisis outpatient programs with Integral Care, mobile crisis outreach, and training offered to law enforcement, medics and jail systems on mental health.

During the coronavirus pandemic, in addition to the traditional services they provide, Integral Care is adding an option to its crisis helpline where people in the community can call to get emotional support from a mental health professional or to talk about the changes they’re experiencing.

If you are looking for mental health assistance personally or are making a call to ask for advice on someone else, you can call the Integral Care crisis helpline at 512-472-4357 (or 472-HELP). After you’ve called you can press 1 to get to the hotline and when a qualified mental health professional answers the phone, you can let them know whether you have a crisis you’re dealing with or if you’re looking to just talk with someone about the stress you’re experiencing.

“In our experience, a lot of times people wait until their mental health becomes a crisis to seek help and we want to make sure the public always knows, but especially knows right now, that there is not one of us that could not benefit from getting some emotional support right now and hopefully intervening before it becomes a mental health crisis,” Wilson Slocum said.

Wilson Slocum said that signs to be on the lookout which could indicate a mental health crisis can include any of the following:

  • Not being able to sleep for days at a time
  • Being unable to get out of bed for days at a time
  • Not eating for days at a time
  • Showing signs of confusion or trouble distinguishing what is real
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there
  • Experiencing emotional numbness for days or weeks at a time
  • Severe rapid mood changes
  • Severe isolation and not engaging in any type of social contact
  • Thoughts of killing or harming oneself (this indicates someone is in immediate need of professional intervention)

Wilson Slocum recommends checking in with the person in your life who may be experiencing these things first, if you are comfortable. She said that sometimes people hesitate to do this, especially with people who may have a preexisting mental illness, because they don’t know what to say.

“It’s critical if a person feels comfortable, to reach out to their loved one and to say, ‘Hey I know that you live with the depression or bipolar disorder, or I know you live with these mental health challenges and I can only imagine how all of the changes due to COVID-19 are impacting you, what can I do that helps?'” Wilson Slocum said.

Even if you are not comfortable with checking in with the person you’re concerned about directly, you can call the Integral Care Helpline on their behalf and remain anonymous. Then the Integral Care team can follow up with the person you’re concerned about.

“It’s been our experience that a lot of times people hesitate calling a crisis helpline or reaching out for help because they don’t know all the details or they don’t know for sure if what the person is experiencing is a crisis,” Wilson Slocum explained. “That’s not the community’s job to figure out, what we want to encourage people to do is if they’re concerned about anyone, they should feel empowered to reach out to that crisis helpline 24-7 and talk to that qualified mental health professional about what they’re concerned about.”

She added that the person on the helpline can offer referrals, emotional support or links to things like telemedicine and intervention over the phone.

Seeing a therapist or qualified mental health professional can be an important part of people’s mental wellness, Wilson Slocum said. She has added that Integral Care has heard from mental health professionals about many clients who haven’t sought therapy in a while returning for telemedicine care during this time.

“Integral Care is still providing its full array of services, we are shifting to telephonic in telemedicine interventions when possible, but we’re still seeing people face to face by appointment when that is the more appropriate way to go,” she added. “We want the community to know Integral Care is here to help, from everything to emotional support needs, to just dealing with the fallout from all the changes from COVDI-19, to providing intensive crisis intervention services.”

You can find more resources from Integral Care here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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