‘Mental Health Firefighters’: A Mental Health Counselor On The Impacts Of Coronavirus

Sara Creel, 46,
is a licensed mental health counselor for Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in Gainesville. (Photo courtesy of Sara Creel)

The new normal of sheltering at home during the coronavirus pandemic can leave people feeling mentally unsteady, but Sara Creel has some guidance on how to relieve the strain.

“As time goes on and kids are out of school, a lot of parents are out of work, a lot of people are stuck with people they don’t necessarily like, or they’re in abusive relationships,” said Creel, 46, a licensed mental health counselor for Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in Gainesville.

“They’re stuck in the house together or there are several children and adults in a small space of tension,” she added. “Stress is going to have a negative impact.”

Creel is part of Meridian’s mobile response team. The program is designed around troubled youth and people under age 25 who need crisis intervention within Baker, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee and Union Counties.

The program’s goals include stabilizing these individuals and diverting them from emergency rooms and or jail. It was created after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland to help young people resolve mental health issues before harming themselves or others.

WUFT News recently spoke with Creel about the mobile response program and how people should be thinking about their mental health during these challenging times.

Q: Have there been periods of time where you’ve seen a large spike in clients?

A: Because this is fairly new, a lot of clients don’t know that we exist. But those that do know we exist are usually in the schools. The Parkland shooting incident sparked a mental health reform, if you will, giving people other options besides causing harm or crisis stabilization, inpatient treatment. We’re the middle ground between doing nothing and inpatient stabilization. We come to the scene – like mental health firefighters – and we hopefully divert the situation away from inpatient treatment, and then we refer the client to services within the community.

Q: What types of services is it that you recommend?

A: Outpatient mental health services, substance abuse services or case management services, if they’re applicable.

Q: How have the stay at home orders affected how the mobile team does its work?

A: The mobile response team is authorized to work from home – and we do use Zoom with our clients. Some don’t have internet access or aren’t comfortable with internet access. So we will evaluate them however we can. If we cannot evaluate them electronically with no contact, then we will go to the home, or we will go to where the crisis is. So far, I haven’t had to go to a home.

Q: Have you seen trends in the services you’ve had to provide?

A: We haven’t seen any real trend yet, but my prediction is we are going to see an uptick before long – incidents of, you know, stress-related mental health emergencies, anger and things like that.

Q: What are some tips that people could use to help improve their mental health at this time?

A: If they feel unstable, call for help. If they feel sadder than they usually feel, call for help. If sleeping isn’t happening the way it used to happen, know what the signs are for mental distress. A lot of times people will have these symptoms associated with mental health distress and not do anything about them. And they’re not trying to learn coping skills, because they really don’t recognize that that’s a problem. And much like any other problem, if you don’t look for active solutions soon enough, then later is better than never. So anytime someone doesn’t feel like they usually do more often, with changes in behavior and changes in demeanor, ask for help. We’re here. And we can help you.

Anyone needing help is urged to contact the toll-free crisis line at 800-330-5615, option 1.

About Samantha Chery

Samantha is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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