01272021 Dave Celone Headshot

Dave Celone

By Dave Celone

Back on Jan. 20, 2020, a patient in the United States was given the first diagnosis of the COVID-19 virus infection by the State of Washington and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Now we’ve just past the one-year mark of this pandemic’s arrival on our shores. It’s an anniversary, but not a cause for celebration for many of us due to the tremendous, physical, mental, financial, and personal stressors it has delivered. Still, there are some bright spots, and particularly with two vaccines having been developed in record time and being delivered across the country and around the world.

At West Central Behavioral Health, we’ve seen the impact of COVID-19 up close and in ways that are often profound and life-changing. While in-person clinical visits have declined, there’s been a significant increase in people’s willingness to meet with our clinicians via telephone and video. We’ve rolled out teletherapy and it’s working. In fact, our child clinical teams report that it really helps when working with families to convey information quickly and privately to parents during a family visit by simply asking them to put in their earbuds for a moment or two without interrupting the visit.

For a Zoom podcast on “Mental Health During the Pandemic: Clinician Views from the Front Lines,” visit bit.ly/2YdlE8w. It’s 36 minutes of quality time spent with two West Central clinicians, Erin Barnett, PhD, and Melissa Baker, LICSW, as moderated by Chris Siebel of Hanover High School.

One area of concern is the increasing number of mental health and substance misuse-related crisis calls inbound to our 24/7 crisis support line and to area police department 911 lines. We’ve been speaking with towns and police departments about this and are in the process of hiring another crisis clinician as a result. But, longer term, we hope to add more crisis clinical staff to address this growing need. It may be that we venture into providing mobile crisis services where we might accompany police or respond to crisis calls on our own. Having a trained crisis clinician on the scene often helps calm things down and de-escalate crises such that hospital emergency departments don’t get overwhelmed with involuntary admits — saving money for towns and the state (and taxpayers, of course). The state is in favor of ramping up mobile crisis support, but appropriate funding remains somewhat murky. Still, we’re doing our best by speaking with towns and hiring at least one more clinician to help people in dire need. Our 24/7 crisis line is (800) 564-2578 if you or someone you know needs immediate help. We’re here for you.

For another Zoom podcast titled “Substance Use During the Pandemic, and How to Recognize Substance Use in Teens,” visit bit.ly/2NEJGr5. This is a 25-minute video conversation with Nick Thelen, West Central’s director of substance use services, David Chimilecki, MLADC, our Master Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor, as moderated by Chris Seibel.

Overall, during the past year, we’ve seen many people and families experiencing ups and downs like never before. Living in isolation or in close quarters, and parents having to serve as educators are not easy. But we’re still venturing into the community to visit people who need direct support outside of the clinical setting, and we’re offering clinical visits in-person and via teletherapy for people of all ages. We’ve also masked up and are now in the process of getting vaccinated as are all front-line healthcare workers. If you’ve not seen our “Pandemic Pioneers” photos on our Facebook page as they get vaccinated, please have a look. We’re serious about health and safety for our clinicians and our clients, and for the community at large as the pandemic continues. And we’re making strong progress helping people in need when they need our compassionate and expert care.

I should also mention to parents that when a child is referred to us by someone at their school, it’s important to contact us quickly so we can schedule a visit. Timely interventions of this sort, especially during this high-stress pandemic time tend to work wonders with kids. Our clinicians have a host of ways to approach treatment that can be as simple as a bit of advice that can make getting through the days and weeks ahead with your child(ren) a much more pleasant experience. For everyone else, if you’re feeling down, under severe stress, or trying to cope with depression, anxiety or trauma, or are finding yourself turning to alcohol or drugs to maintain your “balance,” please call on us. We’re here to help.

Once again, our 24/7 crisis services line is (800) 564-2578. And our new client intake phone number is (603) 542-5128. As we move into this second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, let’s all be as supportive as possible with one another and our family, friends, work colleagues, and neighbors. These are difficult times, but there is help when you need it. Let’s all hope that by this time next year (if not sooner), the worst will be behind us and we’ll be celebrating the end of the pandemic. In the meantime, we’ll continue to serve the mental health, substance misuse, and crisis needs of the communities we serve throughout Sullivan County and lower Grafton County.

Dave Celone is director of development & community relations for West Central Behavioral Health, the community mental health center serving lower Grafton and Sullivan Counties since 1977. West Central has clinics in Claremont, Lebanon, and Newport. Dave may be reached at dcelone@wcbh.org.

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