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Maine Behavioral-Health Providers Worry about Trimming Services


Friday, June 12, 2020   

AUGUSTA, Maine - Forty percent of the agencies in Maine's Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services are concerned they may need to shut down services in the next six to 12 months, according to an internal survey. Eighty percent say they've already reduced services because of COVID-19.

The nonprofit Day One provides mental-health and substance-use counseling, mostly to youth. When schools transitioned to remote learning, their referrals and programming drastically declined.

At the same time, Day One Chief Clinical Officer Missy Cormier says, substance abuse is skyrocketing.

"Kids that were really at high risk, now that we're not seeing them face-to-face, the level of at-risk behaviors they're engaging in has just dramatically increased," says Cormier. "Kids that were sort of medium-risk or sort of on the edge of making risky decisions now have also been to that high-risk phase."

She explains that "medium-risk" includes kids who may smoke marijuana or drink. She says being isolated at home, they're more likely to transition to heavier drugs.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced on Wednesday that it will use nearly $1 million in federal funding to help Mainers deal with the psychological effects of the pandemic.

It's the first such money geared toward behavioral-health services, which doesn't surprise Catherine Ryder. She's the CEO of Tri-County Mental Health Services, one of the first community mental health agencies in New England.

"When people were thinking 'healthcare needs money to address COVID,' everybody thought medical healthcare, and behavioral health is always kind of a secondary thought," says Ryder. "When you're medically impacted, your mental health is also impacted, and vice versa."

Cormier hopes local organizations can find new ways to market their behavioral-health services. She bluntly describes the percentage of young Day One clients having a hard time with COVID.

"One-hundred percent? I hate to say it in that way," says Cormier. "Even high-functioning, well-adjusted kids, three months of social isolation - loss of routine, no summer jobs, no sports, social activities - it's just kind of moved everyone into this a little bit down the chain of high-risk behaviors."

While she says Day One's telehealth services have been successful, they're reaching at least one third fewer young people than they did before the pandemic.

Disclosure: Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services contributes to our fund for reporting on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Mental Health. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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