Mental health funding must be a factor in pandemic recovery

Twelve beds for every 100,000 residents.

During a public hearing hosted by the state Assembly’s mental health committee this week, the vice president of the state’s Public Employees Federation union, Randi DiAntonio, told lawmakers that with the closure of more than 2,400 state-funded psychiatric beds in the past 11 years, the number of beds statewide for those seeking in-patient help has shrunk to just 12 per 100,000 New Yorkers.

That’s far less than the 50 beds per 100,000 residents that the Treatment Advocacy Center — a national nonprofit with a focus on mental health treatment — considers necessary to provide adequate care for those with serious mental illnesses, the Albany Times-Union reported Tuesday.

At the same time, the number of people working for the state’s Office of Mental Health has plummeted, and many of those still working for the OMH are working overtime. DiAntonio told lawmakers that OMH employees clocked a total of more than 3 million overtime hours last year, costing the state about $128 million.

Let’s not forget that while the number of state-funded beds, and the OMH workforce, is shrinking, the need for mental health services has soared since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

A study by a group of American researchers published earlier this year in the Clinical Psychology Review medical journal says that the pandemic will “result in a colossal negative mental health impact due to the many people affected by the pandemic, its disruption of most, if not all, aspects of everyday life, and its multiple waves and protracted nature.

“Indeed,” the study reads, “the COVID-19 pandemic has already been linked to negative mental health outcomes such as depression, anxiety and traumatic stress in populations around the world. More people will experience these outcomes as the pandemic and its negative consequences, such as economic hardship, continue.”

With COVID-19 and COVID-19-related illnesses claiming the lives of 56,323 New Yorkers — and more than 5 million people, globally, according to the World Health Organization — there are also countless people dealing with grief over the loss of loved ones.

The mental health impact of the pandemic is far-reaching, touching every age group.

We’re reminded of a virtual press conference hosted by the Hudson Headwaters Health Network in May, when Saranac Lake pediatrician Dr. Patricia Monroe spoke about how she’d never seen so many kids struggling with mental health issues as she had recently.

If you’re struggling right now, know that you’re not alone. While it’s important to check in with friends and family, there are also professionals who are trained to help when you need support. There are resources available in this area.

Of the 97 hospitals in New York with psychiatric beds, according to the state Department of Health, there are just four located in the North Country region — one of those is Saranac Lake’s Adirondack Medical Center. There are mental health resources available through Essex County Mental Health, Citizen Advocates and Franklin County Community Services, to name a few.

Economic recovery in light of the pandemic is important. Addressing the mental health impacts of the pandemic should not fall by the wayside. State lawmakers should listen to those on the ground in the mental health field and ensure they have the resources required to meet this growing need.

For some New Yorkers, this may be a matter of life or death.

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Those experiencing a mental health or substance use emergency can get help 24/7 by calling the Crisis & Recovery Center hotline at 518-483-3261. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.


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