BR leaders hold virtual community meeting to help people dealing with mental health issues during COVID-19 crisis

BR leaders hold virtual community meeting on how to maintain mental health during COVID-19 crisis

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Maintaining your mental health can sometimes be tough under normal circumstances, but during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it has really become a challenge for many people.

As such, many Baton Rouge area leaders got together Thursday, July 23 to hold a virtual community meeting to address some mental health topics.

Issues covered included dealing with isolation, grief, economic hardships, increased crime, and more.

ONE-STOP-SHOP: Stats, links related to COVID-19

“Amid difficult and uncertain times, there is a great need to enhance communication and to work toward solving the problems of those at risk, the vulnerable, the elderly, individuals facing addiction, economic hardships, increasing crime, and grief,” said Jan Laughinghouse, interim executive director of the Capital Area Human Services (CAHS), the host organizer of the virtual event.

“Since March, we have seen an increased need for behavioral and mental health services, not only for our residents, but for our first responders, our healthcare workers, our law enforcement, and many other individuals,” said EBR Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

Most of the panelists believe this pandemic of course didn’t create the issues, but put a spotlight on the adversities facing the community.

“Not only are we dealing with death an illness, the pandemic has led to losses of sense of safety, of social connections, and to financial security,” said Gwen Knox, grief recovery method specialist for Brian’s Gift, llc.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. Beau Clark says also this year, he has seen an increase in deaths from opioids.

“So like I said, last year we saw 130 [opioid] deaths. At the end of June of 2020, I am sad to say that we actually now hit nearly 130 deaths in the first six months of this year. We will absolutely break the record,” said Dr. Clark.

COVID-19 deaths in East Baton Rouge Parish are also nearing the 300 mark, according to Clark; the homicide rate is climbing as well.

Dr. Clark says right now, the city has seen a decrease in suicides for the first six months of 2020.

“Again, we want people to be there. We want to let them know that there is hope, there’s help, that ending their life does not have to be on the table, but there is so many other things that they have purpose and that they matter,” said Tonja Myles, CAHS certified peer.

One big thing causing stress for parents is having to talk to their children about the pandemic and how the school year will look different. Letting them know things will eventually be okay can be tough.

“They also need to be aware that they may not be able to do some of the things they were doing last year, that they may have to be separated a little bit, that we’re doing these things to stay safe. We don’t want them to be afraid, we don’t want them to be living in fear because of this virus,” said Sherry Verdel, LPC, therapist for the CAHS school-based therapy program.

The event provided participants with resources for dealing with these mental health issues. Panelists included:

  • Jan Laughinghouse, PhD, LCSW-BACS, CAHS Interim Executive Director
  • James E. Hussey, MD, Medical Director, LDH Office of Behavioral Health
  • Sharon Weston Broome, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President
  • William “Beau” Clark, MD, D-ABMDI, East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner
  • Marjorie Person, MD, CAHS Psychiatrist
  • Murphy J. Paul Jr., Chief, Baton Rouge Police Department
  • Gwen Knox, Grief Recovery Method Specialist, Brian’s Gift, LLC
  • Tonja Myles, CAHS Certified Peer
  • Carol Everhart Moise, LCSW, Social Worker Supervisor, CAHS Addiction Recovery Services
  • Sherry Verdel, LPC, Therapist, CAHS School-based Therapy Program
  • Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, Executive Director, Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge

Those in need of help during the COVID-19 crisis can call the following phone numbers:

  • Keep Calm During COVID: 866-310-7977, or text REACHOUT to 741741
  • Crisis Counseling: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Warmline: 833-333-1132

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