Despite the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some mental health clinics aren’t seeing the increase in patients that they expected.
“We know people are experiencing higher than normal levels of stress, yet we haven’t seen an increase in our community members seeking help,” said Julie Hanenburg, executive director of Lighthouse Child & Family Services in Milaca.
Yet, mental health emergency room visits are up from last year, according to Sue Abderholden, executive director at NAMI Minnesota.
The problem is especially acute for children who are in hybrid or distancing learning school models.
“Teachers don’t have the same eyes on their students to detect poor mental health,” she said, noting that most referrals for children’s mental health services are made by educators.
The concern is that conditions like anxiety and depression will go untreated, putting more pressure on children and families at a time of widespread disruption.
“While we worry about protecting the health of our children in the pandemic, let’s remember that their mental health is equally as important,” Abderholden said.
Mental health advocates and providers say that is important for parents to watch for signs such as excessive fear or worry and changes in sleeping and eating habits.
“The mental health toll that this is taking as we move into winter is real,” Gov. Tim Walz said.
COVID-19 deaths and new cases in Minnesota continue to be reported at high levels.
Another 68 lives have been taken by COVID-19, health officials reported Friday, along with 6,812 new infections.
Of the new deaths, 44 were nursing home or assisted-living facility residents, who account for 69% of the 3,150 Minnesota fatalities from the new coronavirus.
So far 256,700 state residents have tested positive for the virus.
Nearly 2.3 million Minnesotans have been tested at least once for COVID-19, with 58,622 test results reported to the Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday.
Minnesota’s hospitals are caring for 1,784 COVID-19 patients, with 369 of them requiring intensive care. Since Nov. 1, hospital patient volume has increased by 1,000 additional COVID-19 cases.
Although clinicians have improved care for hospitalized patients, and some drugs have been developed to improve recovery, the sheer number of new cases each day likely means that hospitals will continued to be pressured until a COVID-19 vaccine is approved and distributed.
Drugmaker Pfizer said Friday that it has asked federal regulators to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine.
The Health Department said in a statement Friday that “it will likely take a couple of weeks” for the Food and Drug Administration to make a decision.
But if emergency use is granted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will develop recommendations on how to distribute the vaccine.
“Once we have those recommendations, it would be at least a week before a vaccine starts to be given in Minnesota,” the state health agency said. “At first, there will be a limited supply of vaccine, so certain people, like some health care workers, will likely be recommended to get the vaccine first.”
Until the vaccine is broadly available, adults and children needing mental health care will still need to take precautions during therapy visits.
Due to a relaxation of state and federal rules, more therapy is moving to telehealth visits using computers, tablets or smartphones.
The electronic visits don’t work for everyone and because of limited internet availability some do not have access.
“With some kids it didn’t work with telehealth, mainly the younger children,” Abderholden said. “Watching a Disney movie on the screen is different than doing play therapy.”
Other children were concerned about privacy and were worried that parents or siblings could hear their sessions. One telephone company provided free earphones or earbuds to help, she said.
Acceptance was also an issue. Some families declined to use telehealth at the start of the pandemic, hoping that in-person therapy would soon resume.
“In the last several weeks we’ve noticed that people were more accepting of telehealth,” Hanenburg said.
State officials announced Friday that the Ikea US Community Foundation will donate $1.2 million that will be used to broaden access to children’s mental health services.
The money will provide resources to the School-Linked Mental Health Program that pairs 58 mental health providers with 1,100 Minnesota schools.
“This generous donation from Ikea will help us improve safety measures so students can continue to receive services face to face,” said Commissioner Jodi Harpstead of the Minnesota Department of Human Services. It will also be used to expand telehealth services, she said.
Many people who become sickened with COVID-19 do not develop symptoms or have mild symptoms that don’t require medical attention. Since the pandemic began, 202,432 of those infected are considered to be no longer infectious and do not need to isolate.
Complications from COVID-19 typically occur in those with underlying health conditions, including heart, lung or kidney disease.
Also, most hospitalizations and deaths are among the elderly. However, 43% of all COVID-19 hospital admissions were infected people under the age of 60, who also account for 40% of ICU patients.
The CDC Friday released results of a study conducted by Health Department researchers about infections linked to the August Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.
Health investigators found that 86 Minnesota cases were linked to the 10-day gathering including 51 among attendees, 26 who didn’t attend the event but caught it from someone who did and another nine cases that likely came from close contact with a rally participant.
“These 86 cases are likely an undercount,” state infectious disease director Kris Ehresmann said. “We had other anecdotal reports of people being associated with the rally that we were not able to officially count. There were also some people who we were not able to reach or where we didn’t have full information for contact tracing.”