Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Murt (R-Philadelphia) is examining the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had and is having on the mental health and well-being of his state’s residents, and how the mental health community is addressing those needs.
In an informal meeting on Wednesday, Murt met with representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (PADHS), doctors and private mental health services providers about the rising levels of financial distress, anxiety, depression, insomnia and unresolved grief throughout the past few months.
In adults, isolation caused by statewide shutdowns and stay-at-home orders has been in part responsible for an increase in substance abuse and relapse, despair, and thoughts of suicide, the experts said. In children, mental health professionals are seeing an increase in fear, nightmares, anxiety and regressive behavior, such as bed wetting.
Kristen Houser, deputy secretary of the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in the PADHS, said admissions to psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers has decreased during the pandemic, but telehealth, that allows doctors to consult with patients virtually through phone calls, computers or cellphone video, has been helpful in treating patients who may be afraid of leaving their homes and risking being exposed to COVID-19.
However, experts said access to broadband in rural areas of the state is an issue in being able to provide that care to everyone. Other issues affect providers ability to deliver care to those in rural areas.
“In the three counties that we serve, poverty is a leading problem. A lot of the farms have gone out of business, so we see a lot of depression with the farm culture in the rural areas,” Denault said. “It is difficult to recruit and retain psychiatrists and staff in rural areas due to the lack of amenities. Finally, 50 percent of my workforce is mobile and makes home and school visits for children at risk of abuse, incest, neglect, not being fed or a drug situation — the worst of the worst. A lot of that ‘on-the-road time’ is not paid for. It’s a noble profession, but in the rural areas, we have to be a lot more creative.”
Murt said he would be working on the issues with the providers in the coming weeks.