Survey shows rise in mental health issues in Peoria area

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Mental health issues are on the rise in the Tri-County area.

According to the 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment Survey, the percentage of people describing their overall mental health as “good” has dropped by 73% over the past six years, while the percentage of people reporting “poor” mental health has doubled over the past three years. at 16%.

The Community Health Needs Assessment also shows a 12% increase in the number of people suffering from depression, stress or anxiety compared to the previous survey in 2019.

Monica Hendrickson, administrator of the Peoria City/County Health Department, explains that one of the reasons behind the survey results is greater self-awareness regarding one’s own mental health status. She says the results can also be considered residual COVID-19.

“I still think one of the best things that’s happened during the pandemic is that we’ve had conversations around our table to normalize things like mental health and health equity,” said Hendrickson. “We talked about watching each other: did you have a phone call with your friend, (or) a sanity break? Check on your neighbors or relatives, just to see how they are doing and how they are holding up.

“Especially if you had family members who were elderly, the depression of having to isolate themselves from them, not seeing their grandchildren, things of that nature – we talked about it regularly. So I think the data shows not only, a, living through a pandemic and the impact it’s had on us as a community, but also just an increased understanding and willingness to recognize mental health as part of your overall health.

pandemic problem

Mary Sparks Thompson, president of UnityPlace, the behavioral health and addictions services division of UnityPoint Health, says that while there isn’t a specific reason for the rise in mental health issues, COVID -19 is definitely a contributing factor.

“If we think about the past few years, everyone knows there has been a significant increase in the stress of everyday life,” Sparks Thompson said. “For example, we had to change a lot of our ways of working, the way we interact with others. COVID has led to social isolation for many people.

“So all of these factors increase susceptibility to mental health symptoms ranging from depression to anxiety. Moreover, when we think about the fact that we have lost over a million citizens, there are at least as many and more who are grieving due to the loss of their loved ones. Almost everyone knows someone who has been sick with COVID or had some kind of impact on their life due to COVID, whether through job change, job loss, of course, our children have suffered from the shift to online learning. So all of those things combined, that’s why I think we’re seeing an increase in mental health symptoms and disorders across the board.

The Community Health Needs Assessment also shows that age-adjusted suicide rates are on the rise in Peoria and Tazewell counties, with rates for all three counties above the state average. . Another area of ​​concern is hospitalization for mental health issues, with Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties each showing above-average rates.

Crisis? Not enough

While the surge in mental health issues in the region is alarming, Hendrickson says calling it a crisis isn’t entirely accurate.

“The word ‘crisis’ means it’s new and it’s happening overnight, and I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s a high priority issue and has been for some time, and we now see it manifesting in different ways, Hendrickson said. “I think what makes it a crisis is that some of the ways you see it manifesting are serious outcomes, like suicide. .

“So how can we tackle this problem? That’s really the million dollar question, partly because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution and no single agency or platform where it works, but it really (takes) a holistic approach – reviewing all best practices and identifying where, as a community, we can fill these gaps and direct resources.

young minds

A specific area of ​​need is the treatment of children’s mental health. The evaluation showed that pediatric mental health hospitalization rates in Peoria and Tazewell counties are higher than statewide rates and higher than most other counties in Illinois.

Sparks Thompson says that’s one of the reasons UnityPoint is converting the former Heddington Oaks retirement home into a child and adolescent behavioral health center and launching the Young Minds project.

“We are building on a more than 70-year tradition of strong commitment to behavioral health services in this area, and so we look forward to expanding resources for children and adolescents,” said Sparks Thompson. “We are concerned about the availability of resources for children. We are setting up programs in our local schools to reach children where they are and we are looking at other creative ways to improve access to care, one of which, of course, is to add child care beds. additional hospitals to our Young Minds project, as well as expanding and co-locating services across the continuum of care for the behavioral health needs of children.

Increase awareness, care

Sparks Thompson says expansion plans for the Young Minds Project include increasing the number of inpatient beds from 23 to 44, to begin with.

“Other services we would like to add are a partial hospitalization program and an intensive outpatient program, which is a step between being in the hospital and seeing a therapist and medication management by a psychiatrist once you are discharged. the hospital,” she said. . “So it’s a bridge between those two levels of care, which really helps meet a need.”

Many survey respondents identified limited access to mental health treatment services as a barrier to getting the care they need. Some think they have to wait too long for help, or can’t afford personal expenses, and others simply have trouble finding counselors or don’t know where they should look. Other barriers include stigma, socioeconomic status, unstable home environments, and non-recognition of symptoms.

Hendrickson says the key to getting the region’s mental health problem under control is coordinating services and identifying gaps. Sparks Thompson agrees, noting that acknowledging the problem exists is a good first step.

“I think the best thing we can do is talk about what services are needed, what services are available, continue to do this community education to let people know when to get help, and I think recognizing that and normalizing the need services ranging from therapy to hospitalization,” Sparks Thompson said. “The more we talk about it, the more we educate others about it, the more we listen to and support each other, the more people will be able to ask for help instead of isolating themselves and suffering in silence.”

This story is published in partnership with WCBU, Peoria Public Radio.

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