It’s becoming a cliché to say, but it’s still true – we are living through unprecedented and challenging times. The COVID-19 crisis has caused immense suffering for all of us, and we are only at the beginning of understanding the long-term impacts on our well-being. One consequence that is becoming increasingly clear is that this pandemic is heavily affecting our mental health.
Howard County is feeling these impacts just like communities all across the country and the world. Early data shows an increase in calls to the Grassroots Crisis Hotline, the Maryland Crisis Hotline and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in 2020. Among Howard County youth ages 10-14, there were 104 hospital ED visits for suicide and intentional self-harm in 2019, a 76% increase from 59 in 2016, according to CRISP. Anxiety is consistently rated as the top struggle people are dealing with. With children heading back to the classroom in a few short days, after two years of significant disruption to their lives, the mental health and well-being of our students are top of mind for many in our community.
As we continue to navigate this pandemic, the feelings of loss, anxiety, worry, anger and confusion will surely remain and affect mental health for all of us. Over the past several years, the Horizon Foundation and our partners have worked to expand access to mental health services in Howard County – but with needs clearly rising, much more work remains. Here are some of the ways we are investing in mental health and how you can join us:
- Often times, school is the best place for kids to receive mental health supports – in fact, nationally, 70% of students who receive mental health services across the country get them in schools. All schools in Howard County have mental health services available to students – but through a program funded by the Horizon Foundation and the Howard County Public School System, 50 of our 77 schools have an enhanced set of supports that includes 1:1 counseling services (offered, with parent permission, by licensed professionals during the school day). We want all children in Howard County to have the tools they need to thrive inside and outside of the classroom – sign your name to our petition to bring these enhanced services to every Howard County public school.
- In addition to resources in schools, we know that families often look to their pediatrician for help with mental health needs. To improve access to care, we provided $80,000 in funding to the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to support integrating a psychologist into two of our local practices – Ellicott City Pediatrics and The Pediatric Center. This will also help ensure our families can access the care they need, whenever they need it.
- We are excited to bring back two important events this fall. We are partnering with Gilchrist and the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing to host a fall series on grief, loss and trauma to discuss coping mechanisms as we continue to navigate the pandemic in the face of reentry. The month-long series will be on Tuesdays at 10 a.m., with the first session on September 14. We will also once again host our Mental Health Film Festival with Columbia Festival of the Arts during the week of October 17. This time around, we are excited to partner with additional community organizations to host the film screenings and panel discussions. Details and registration coming soon!
- With the need for mental health crisis response increasing, so is our commitment to expanding access to these services. This summer, the Foundation and the United Way of Central Maryland awarded a grant of $450,000 to expand the psychiatric urgent care clinic at Sheppard Pratt’s brand new Elkridge campus. The clinic will provide urgent assessments and triage to appropriate care for individuals experiencing mental health and/or addiction crises. We are also part of the team who helped win $45 million in state funding for the Greater Baltimore Regional Integrated Crisis Response System, a collaboration to expand community-based services that meet the need of a person or family in crisis, rather than calling 911 or visiting an emergency room.
- We all have people in our circles who we care about that may be struggling – and you have the power to show up for them. Take the pledge to be an Emotional Support Human and learn tips about how you can best support the people in your life dealing with mental health challenges.
No matter who you are or the struggles you are facing, we want to make sure you have access to the mental health support you need. This has been an incredibly challenging 18 months – and you don’t have to go through it alone. As Howard County’s community health foundation, we have your back. Let’s take care of one another.
If you or a loved one need immediate help, call Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center’s 24-hour hotline at 410-531-6677.
Tiffany Callender Erbelding is the Foundation’s senior program director.