The COVID-19 pandemic has sickened more than 450,000 Kentuckians and claimed the lives of more than 7,000 people in the Bluegrass State.
Along with the devastating physical illness came an unprecedented storm of stress, confusion and grief.
Many Kentuckians suffered, and continue to experience, mental health issues in the lingering shadow of the pandemic.
One place many people turn to for support is LifeSkills. It’s the public, nonprofit community mental health center based in Bowling Green that serves the 10-county Barren River region in southern Kentucky.
WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Nicole Espey, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who is the Intake and Admissions Program Manager for LifeSkills. Espey offers perspective on about how the pandemic has affected requests for mental health services.
Espey: So, during the pandemic, it was quite surprising, we had less people calling for services. But what we did find was a lot more urgency and need. So, the people who were calling, when we were speaking with them, and we screen them for how quickly we need to get them in services, they were all screening very high to severe.
Miller: What were their needs? What were the issues they were mostly calling about?
Espey: So, definitely a lot more signs of depression and anxiety. We have a lot of callers that because of the pandemic, their financial situation stress greatly shot up. And that was another thing we’ve seen during the pandemic, was individuals stress ratings were super high. Whereas before they were kind of moderate. And now we're looking at callers who are saying that their stress is at the top.
Miller: You said that there was a decrease in the number of calls, but an increase in the severity level of the stress or depression. Do you have any sort of insight into why there may have been fewer calls during the pandemic, when we know people were very seriously stressed by so many things?
Espey: So yeah, during the pandemic, there were so many restrictions placed on everyone. And LifeSkills, historically, we depend on our referrals coming from our community partners, so social services, the police, the court system, schools. And of course, during the pandemic, all of those things were put on hold or modified in a very different fashion. And so, my opinion is, there just was lack of opportunity for other professionals to identify those problems, and link them to us.
Miller: What kind of calls you're getting now at intake, as far as with the pandemic sort of easing a bit and people being vaccinated and going back to work? Are things different now?
Espey: Yes, we definitely have seen an increase in the number of referrals that are coming in since the pandemic is starting to come to a close. A 26 percent increase just in the month of April, which was huge. And then in terms of callers, individuals calling over the past two months of April and May, there was a 10 percent increase in the number of individuals calling. So, we do see that coming out of this pandemic, we're getting those referrals, people are starting to connect to others. And problems are being identified and they're getting to us.
Miller: So, I guess, Nicole, the only other thing I would ask you is, what's your overall perspective on the past year, and then now?
Espey: I think coming out of the pandemic, now people are able to get the services they need and get referred to us. There were many people who were in abusive relationships, who didn't have help, who didn't have an outlet. A lot of children were in abusive homes that wasn't identified because they weren't able to go to school. There wasn't anyone else interacting with them. And so now here we are coming out of all this and all these problems are being identified at a really staggering rate.
Miller: Thanks so much, Nicole. Appreciate it.
Miller: I've been talking with Nicole Espey, Intake and Admissions Program Manager for LifeSkills. I'm Rhonda Miller in Bowling Green.