From economic strains to a now six-month period of isolation, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend daily life. In Washtenaw County, “the unsurprising result,” as Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder reports for Concentrate, is “an uptick in stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative implications for the mental health of residents.”
Trish Cortes, the executive director of Washtenaw County Community Mental Health, is featured in Drepaul-Bruder’s Concentrate article, and explains that the impact has been mitigated somewhat in Washtenaw County, with nearby counties faring worse.
“Other [community mental health] directors, even within our southeast region, have told me that they're seeing the rates of people who are being hospitalized really doubling," she says. "These are residents who have had no prior contact with the community mental health system and who my colleagues are meeting for the first time in an emergency room.”
That mitigation is thanks to Washtenaw County’s Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage, which was approved by voters in 2017 and began to provide funds for programs in January of 2019. In addition to funding crisis response training for officers, anti-stigma campaigns for high school students, and more—the millage helped provide the resources needed for an interdisciplinary team of mental health professionals to serve residents across the county.
That said, there’s certainly room for more COVID-19-dedicated mental health assistance.
Drepaul-Bruder, Cortes, and other local professionals, like Kamilah Davis-Wilson, the youth development and outreach manager at Ypsilanti's Corner Health Center, all underscore how imperative such resources are during a pandemic—citing in particular the need to address adolescent uncertainties and profound racial disparities.
This naturally has sparked conversations with the county’s Millage Advisory Committee around fund adjustments, Drepaul-Bruder reports. “We’re very aware that we might have to reprioritize or shift some of what we had already lined [up] due to COVID-19,” Cortes says.
Barb Higman, office manager for the National Alliance on Mental Illness - Washtenaw County, mentions that many dealing with mental health issues have found an increased understanding from others.
Hopefully, this pandemic will not only result in better empathy and reduced stigma around mental health and substance use, but will further reinforce the essential nature of mental health millage funding—resources that will continue to provide vital community mental health and substance use treatment and recovery services until 2026.
Learn more about Washtenaw County’s Public Safety and Mental Health Preservation Millage, which will be up for renewal in 2024.