By Kevin Limiti • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and more recently with the emergence of the Delta variant, people have been forced to change their lifestyles in order to stay safe and healthy. While the prolonged effects of social distancing are unclear, in Otsego County there are clear statistics regarding the effects these changes have had on the mental health of its residents.
According to the Otsego County Department of Health, there was a lull in people seeking care for the first few months of the pandemic, but by the end of 2020 there was a 5% increase in those seeking treatment.
The Otsego County Mental Health and Addiction Service clinics moved about 1,000 clients to telehealth, where medical staff provide services via phone, Zoom or other technologies.
Children and Family Services as well as Addiction Recovery both experienced declines in service, but this was because referral services had either gone remote or weren’t operating under normal capacities.
“We experienced a significant jump in severity of impairment and risk in both adults but most dramatically in children,” Susan Matt, director of community services for the Otsego County Mental Health Department, said. “Unlike many other counties, we have not seen a significant increase in overdose deaths.”
Matt said in the first six months of 2021 her department had seen an increase in services and because of the pandemic, telehealth had become the “forefront for mental health and addiction services.”
According to Bassett Healthcare, school-based health clinics have experienced a tremendous uptick in the amount of children and teens needing mental health assistance.
Deb Schlesinger, a clinical social worker who works with children and teenagers as part of school-based health clinic with Bassett Healthcare, said she has seen how the sudden shutdown was experienced by young people and had adversely affected their mental health.
“That kind of thing never happened to any of us before,” Schlesinger said, calling the effects “jarring.”
“Their routine was suddenly changed,” Schlesinger said, with children and teenagers no longer be able to see friends, teachers and have lunch at school.
Schlesinger said she was offered by teachers as a therapist and worked primarily through telehealth.
“If we look at kids who did extracurricular activities, sports, getting ready to graduate,” Schlesinger said. “All of these things became uncertain.”
“To me, there was a certain adjustment and loss,” Schlesinger said. “I think (there was) a certain grief of ‘are we going to have a prom or not?’ … People may have had real grief and loss. People in their lives may have died that they couldn’t see. People were talking about (how) we can’t have our little ones hug our grandparents.”
With cases beginning to increase again in Otsego County, the Otsego County Department of Health is encouraging those who have not done so already to get the vaccine, because the new strain of the virus most significantly affects those who are not vaccinated.