During 2020 the pandemic shut down most service and retail jobs temporarily, wrecked social lives and destroyed travel plans. Family members living in different parts of the country were cut off from each other. More than 4.5 million people have died globally, including721,000 Americans, 20,447 Arizonans and 662 Yavapai County residents.
Along with those staggering statistics, some of us who have lost friends or family members to the virus and those who have long-haul health struggles are still suffering. Lasting emotional and psychological strife, loneliness and stress with new variants have all taken their toll.
From low-level depression to anxiety to PTSD and addiction, people are contacting local mental-health treatment centers for support in greater numbers than ever. Paige LaForte, clinical director at Spectrum Healthcare Group, says calls to the company’s countywide crisis hotline have soared, from 180 per month in 2020 to up to 320 monthly in 2021. Most are related to suicidal thoughts.
“The primary presenting issues are isolation and a dramatic increase in family conflict,” LaForte said. “People are working at home and families are together more and under stress. Another stressor is homelessness.”
About65% of those calling connect with community mental health resources for help, LaForte said, including Polara Health in Prescott (formerly West Yavapai Guidance Clinic), Southwest Behavioral Health, and Spectrum at its locations in Prescott, Cottonwood and Camp Verde.
Senior suicides rose in 2020 despite an overall decrease in suicides from the high in 2017, LaForte said. Part of the drop was due to expanded programs to address suicide, collaboration between agencies and a marketing campaign to let people know that help is available.
When schools shut down, domestic violence went up, LaForte said. However, the main resources for reporting — teachers — weren’t seeing students and parents in person, so interventions and mental-health support did not occur until schools reopened.
Beya Thayer, executive director of the Yavapai County Justice and Mental Health Coalition, explains that the psychological impact of Covid has evolved in its second year, and appears to be nowhere near ending as infections and deaths spike every two to three months.
“What I saw at the beginning was we were losing people to suicide,” Thayer said. “Now we’re seeing PTSD.”
The county launched its Stronger Together campaign to encourage people to seek help and provide resources to contact. Since vaccinations began people are getting out more, but long-term stress continues to be an issue with continuing triggering of the fight-or-flight response.
“It’s like what your body goes through — the adrenaline rush when you're out of a traumatic situation — like remembering back in college, when you would get sick in between semesters when everything was done, and it all comes flooding out,” Thayer said.
The physical impact of stress and depression can’t be underestimated. Mental-health stressors have been proven to increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
The impact has been acute for frontline workers and first-responders, including burnout, sickness and exhaustion, even among mental-health providers, who are working harder than ever to help others.
“We're all going through our own thing with Covid, and then if your job all day long is to help others deal with stuff, your cup is just getting fuller and fuller and fuller,” Thayer said. “Some of our partners are having a really difficult time filling positions that people apply for because they can’t find housing.”
Jim DeLung, police administrator for the Prescott Police Department and director of 911 and the Regional Communication Center, said during are cent forum for the League of Women Voters of Central Yavapai County that mental health is his top issue. Since the beginning of the year, one police officer and 26-year-old Prescott firefighter Tye Seets have killed themselves. He noted that police die by suicide 2.5 times more often than the general public.
One sign locally of PTSD was seen at the second Prescott Mayor’s Town Hall on Mental Health in April 2021, when a panel of local mental-health experts in the hybrid virtual and in-person event said that the number of calls for help from people in the Quad Cities area rose after vaccinations began.
Leslie Horton, director of the Yavapai County Health Department, who spoke at the town-hall meeting, said that even before the pandemic Yavapai reported a higher rate of suicide than any other Arizona county, especially among seniors. The county also has a high overdose rate and increases in youth deaths of all types. In 2020 overdoses increased 64% in males and 36% in females compared with 2019.
Work stress in service fields is still rampant. While federally enhanced unemployment benefits of $300 per week cut off on Labor Day, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of people working remains flat. The unemployment report for September shows that 183,000 fewer people were working in Arizona than the month before. A survey by the federal government found that most chose not to work because of fear of contracting Covid — despite rising wages, more job opportunities and the availability of vaccines. Some couldn’t return to work because their employers went out of business. But other factors are in play, too.
The Arizona Republic reported on September 27 that some restaurant workers have left the service field permanently for other jobs, citing Covid outbreaks at work, hostile customers and alack of incentives to return — including poor pay, low tips and no health insurance.
In the Quad Cities many restaurants and retailers are finding it difficult to fill job openings, saying they just aren’t getting the applicants. That adds stress for those still working, who have to pick up the slack. Another reason for fewer applicants is that women still haven’t fully returned to the workforce, largely due to alack of child care. A new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health found that 34% of families with young children struggle to find child care.
Spectrum’s LaForte says that if there is any silver lining to pandemic-era mental-health services, it’s that health and social-service agencies are working more collaboratively than ever before, and that over-the-phone telehealth services first made available on an emergency basis may now be accessible permanently.
Through telehealth, “more people have been able to access care,” LaForte said. “We’re reaching more people than ever because we had to get creative in how to provide more services.”
SpectrumHealth Care 24-Hour Hotline: 877-634-7333.
CrisisResponse Network for Northern Arizona: Thedispatch of area mobile crisis units on a 24/7 basis. Call877-756-4090. Hearing impaired: 800-367-8939.
CrisisText Line: Text‘HELLO’to 741741.
PrescottValley Crisis Stabilization Unit: A24/7 crisis center for anyone in need of help, counseling, or acommunity resource or outreach. No appointment required.928-445-4211.
ArizonaTeen Crisis Solutions: 623-879-9600.
LGBTQ+Youth,TrevorLifeline: 866-488-7386or Text ‘START’to 678678
SouthwestBehavioral and Health Services: 928-772-1610
The National Suicide Prevention hotline: 800-273-TALK(8255)