Maine DHHS Encourages Residents to Take Advantage of Mental Health Resources

Published: Dec. 28, 2020 at 2:49 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WAGM) - As the winter holiday season continues, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) reminds Maine people that mental health resources are available to help during times of stress and uncertainty, including through the StrengthenME initiative and traditional crisis support.

The demands of the holiday season can often lead to an increase in stress, depression and other behavioral health challenges. This year, adjustments to holiday plans and other changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic are taking an added emotional toll on many people.

Some of the signs that your mental health may need attention and care include irritability, nervousness, changes in appetite, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping or concentrating. More serious warning signs may include a sense of hopelessness, withdrawing from loved ones, substance misuse, self-harm, and feelings, thoughts, or actions of suicide.

“While the holiday season can be joyous and celebratory, it’s normal to feel distress during this time of year, and even more so now with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting so many facets of our lives and traditions,” said Dr. Jessica Pollard, director of the Maine DHHS Office of Behavioral Health and a licensed psychologist. “If you or someone you know needs help, resources are available -- from tools to promote wellness, to a listening ear, to support in a crisis.”

“Doing the right thing to limit potential spread of the virus can be hard,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Physical distancing can lead some people to feel a sense of social isolation, so it is important to use the available tools to support each other and show kindness during stressful times.”

In October, Maine DHHS announced the launch of StrengthenME, an initiative to help Maine people cope with the stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing free tools, support, and community connections that promote wellness, resilience, and recovery. Supported by nearly $5 million in federal funding, the StrengthenME coalition has already provided help through over 23,000 contacts with Maine people. StrengthenME resources can help people develop coping strategies and self-care practices before emotional challenges escalate into more serious mental health problems.

· If you or someone you know is looking for support, call StrengthenME at (207) 221-8198, seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. StrengthenME is free, confidential, anonymous, and available to anyone in Maine. This line will also connect callers who are health care workers, first responders, and school staff to the FrontLine WarmLine, a dedicated phone support service for these groups.

For people who are feeling overwhelmed by depression or anxiety, crisis support is available. Seek help immediately if you or someone you know is talking about suicide, feelings of hopelessness or unbearable pain, or about being a burden to others.

· If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text the Statewide Crisis Line at 888-568-1112, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. This line is free and confidential and staffed by trained crisis clinicians who can connect you to the closest crisis center.

While there’s no indication of an increase in suicide rates in Maine in 2020 compared to 2019, the volume of calls to the Statewide Crisis Line has increased. This higher call volume suggests not only that people are feeling distress but also that they are reaching out to seek help.

In addition to StrengthenME, Maine DHHS has launched the OPTIONS (Overdose Prevention Through Intensive Outreach, Naloxone and Safety) initiative to combat the disturbing rise in fatal drug overdoses exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the initiative, mobile response teams in every Maine county engage with communities that have high rates of drug overdoses to promote drug prevention and harm reduction strategies, connect people directly to recovery services and treatment, and distribute naloxone, the lifesaving overdose medication.

This latest effort in the Mills Administration’s response to the opioid epidemic, supported by $2.5 million in existing federal funds, comes as fatal drug overdoses are rising nationally. Fatal overdoses in Maine began to rise prior to COVID-19, but they have been exacerbated by the pandemic, which is making it more challenging to connect people with treatment and recovery resources.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Administration has also authorized recovery service providers to utilize telehealth services, increased flexibility for take-home doses of the opioid treatment methadone, and provided flexibility to needle exchange programs

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