For the last three weeks, we start each day thinking, “Today things are going to stabilize. Today we’ll hit a plateau.” But for the past month, regular updates from Governor Walz, new reports from the CDC, and revised guidance from our state and local public health agencies have kept us on our toes. If we’ve learned anything so far, it’s how resilient we are. Our employees, clients, partners, and communities have stepped up.

We’ve watched heartfelt videos from school teachers and staff, pouring out their love for our children. Parents are hosting virtual birthday parties to keep families connected. Employees are extending more grace and patience to their co-workers. Drive through any neighborhood, and you’re bound to see paper hearts on the windows of at least one home or business. These are examples of how we’re adjusting to this new world, finding our new norm while we cope with the effects of COVID-19.

In the coming weeks and months, your mental health will become even more important. Functioning in this physically isolated environment like this is not easy for most people. If you aren’t practicing and modeling self-care and wellness, you may start seeing some challenges at home and with those in your household.

Our message to you today: We are here to help you build resiliency and prepare for what lies ahead. Whatever your situation looks like right now, we have resources and options to support you.

“You don’t have to be in crisis or have suicidal thoughts to use our crisis line. It’s normal to feel some additional anxiety and stress during a global pandemic,” says CEO of Northwestern Mental Health Center, Shauna Reitmeier. “Call our mobile crisis team before you reach a breaking point. Our team is trained to assist in these situations.”

Typically, our Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) receives four to five calls each day. Roughly 60 percent of the calls originate in Polk county. The other 40 percent comes from Mahnomen, Norman, Red Lake, Marshall, Kittson, Pennington, and Roseau counties. While we saw a slight drop in calls the third week of March, calls have been steady.

“About 15 percent of calls between March 16 and April 8 were related to anxiety and worries due to COVID-19,” says Christie Wisk, Mental Health Practitioner on our MCRT.

Since March 23, we’ve been supporting crisis callers through telemedicine when possible. Before that, our MCRT was activated and met with individuals face-to-face for approximately half of the calls. The other half were resolved over the phone. In the last two weeks, we’ve used telemedicine to resolve 70 percent of our crisis calls.

“This is a win-win. It’s safer for callers and our employees. Seeing someone through telemedicine feels more connected and warmer than just talking on the phone. We can see the individual, read body cues, and evaluate the environment around them,” says Wisk. “And if the situation requires face-to-face interaction, we’re still going to go. But we’re taking extra precautions in those instances now, to keep everyone healthy.”

With so many uncertainties, NWMHC providers like Wisk hope to see more people reach out in April and May. Overall, we’ve modified the delivery of all our services.  Most of our providers now offer therapy, case management, and rehabilitation services from their homes using technology. And individuals can receive NWMHC services from anywhere using a phone, smartphone, or computer. 

But there’s concern that as time goes on, people will need more support. We’ve put processes in place to connect with current clients, and we have openings for new clients. We’re exploring ways to reach those who may not have access to technology to connect through telemedicine. Or people who don’t have a safe place to request and receive mental and chemical health care services. We’re also discussing how we can best support first responders, teachers, and those experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19.

“Support from federal, state, and local governments has been critical in the last few weeks. It’s clear no one wants a mental health crisis to follow this pandemic,” says Reitmeier. “As funding and programs roll out and open doors, people should expect to see more opportunities for receiving mental health care in their communities.”

Northwestern Mental Health Center is a pathfinder and innovator in the mental health care industry, not just in Minnesota, but nationally. We will continue to advocate for the people we serve and do everything we can to build resilient families and communities. We are in this together. And we will make it through this together.