“This has been a challenging time for a lot of people,” acknowledged Devorah Garfield, LICSW, director of Eliot Community Human Services in Concord for 24 years.
“Life as we know it just changed and affected all people in different ways,” she said. “People’s level of anxiety has increased dramatically.”
“The biggest thing we have seen is people feeling really isolated,” said Danika Castle, the social worker with the Council on Aging. The health restrictions imposed to prevent spread of the pandemic have closed the Council on Aging facilities, but “we are still answering phones and trying to be creative about the services we offer.”
“I’ve noticed is that people’s needs have shifted,” said Christopher Bang, community social worker with the town Youth and Family Services Department. “When the pandemic first started, it was about basic needs – food, prescription drugs. Starting in late June and going into July, people wanted mental health services. There was an increase in anxiety, a disconnect from not being regularly in touch with friends and family.”
“Chris and I are here and we are available so if you don’t know what resources are available, call us — that’s our role, to connect people to those resources,” Castle said. “There are a lot out there: counseling, emergency services, resources for caregivers. We can help people get the right supports for whatever their situation may be.” Added Bang, “There are still a lot of factors we don’t know, but we are continuing to adapt and service the community.”
She stressed that family members and friends should be aware of warning signs that indicate potential mental health issues.
They range from sleeping too much or not enough, or literally never going outside, to talking repeatedly about how bad things are, or wondering what the point of everything is. “Because everyone is so isolated, people can be even more withdrawn than normal,” Garfield said. “So notice when people are sadder, more anxious, more preoccupied. If you don’t pay attention, people can get even more depressed, more anxious.”
She added, “In families, people are fighting more with one another. More stress is going on because people are with each other constantly.”
”It’s such a hard thing,” Castle observed. “Since we are recommending that people stay home, how do you detect isolation? If you notice, first and foremost, a significant change in a person’s daily activities. Day to day stuff like sleeping and eating patterns. Are they less interested in something than they used to be.”
Sometimes it’s obvious, like “if you see someone not even going outside the house or miss a particular errand.”
Citizens can help. “I have had some neighbors reach out about individuals and it has been a great way for me to try to help get them connected to services,” Castle said.
One bright spot on the mental health landscape has been technology, Garfield noted. “All the research shows that people need socialization and without it can fall into despair,” she said. Videoconferencing platforms like Zoom are “so helpful for people’s mental state, to see another live human being.”
Interface Referral Services
Castle applauded the Health Department’s recent affiliation with Interface, provided through William James College in Newton. The school’s academic specialty is in the area of psychology and behavioral health. Interface connects callers to mental health resources. It was added by Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter to her fiscal 2021 budget – before she knew about Covid-19 – so the relationship began on July 1.
“It’s a very easy user-friendly phone referral service,” Castle said. “They listen to what you need and get you connected to the most appropriate counselor, psychiatrist, whatever you’re seeking for support. And they follow up to make sure it’s a good fit – a great resource that is new to Bedford.”
Eliot Community Human Services
Eliot Community Human Services provides a variety of counseling options for Bedford residents through its contract with Youth and Family Services. The counseling center, Garfield said, has seen “an increase in depression. Everything that people knew as normal is no longer normal. So we have to adjust to a new normal. Back to school, dealing with work, there are so many struggles that we see clients who we serve.”
The center sees “people across the lifespan,” including children as young as age three. Garfield said it’s especially challenging to communicate with small children, who can be easily distracted, and “a lot of teenagers don’t want to be on video or talk on the phone.”
The center has conducted all of its counseling by telephone and videoconference since the middle of March, and only now is starting to gradually open to in-person sessions. “Everyone has looked at their caseload and talked to me about who needs to be seen clinically, who would best benefit from being seen in person, whose mental health is getting worse because they’re not physically being seen,” Garfield said.
Services to Seniors
Elderly residents who live alone are a concern, Castle said, “but even people who are living with others still experience some of the effects related to the pandemic. I often think about the term loneliness as not necessarily being alone. You can be lonely and around other people.”
The virus has closed the Council on Aging facilities to pubic use, so “people are unable to do the social stuff in the building. We hear a lot about them missing their social outlets, see their friends, see us,” Castle said. Virtual programming has been well received. “We definitely have a really good turnout of people using Zoom – more than we thought.”
She also pointed out that “there are people who don’t have the technology or the access or who feel comfortable using a computer. So they are not accessing virtual stuff. We are missing that group of people who are afraid or who don’t have the skillset or family members who can help them get online.’’
“There are a lot of resources out there if people are willing to use them. The biggest barrier is the willingness to use.”
The Council on Aging staff is available by phone, Castle noted, and “I am able to visit people if need be to help them connect. We will try our best to connect people to virtual services.”
We had some people who, for whatever reason, were lacking food,” Castle said. “There are a lot of resources for that – the town food bank, meals-on-wheels for those who qualify, and the CoA has a monthly food bank.”
“We are still doing the weekly food bank and reaching people of whom we weren’t previously aware. Perhaps before they weren’t in need,” Bang reported. “We are getting new phone calls all the time to join the delivery list or attend.”
He added, “We’ve launched a diaper bank, including personal items. The goal is to help individuals get items not covered by SNAP or credit cards. People feel the pressure about not having the income they once had.”
There are a number of residents who are behind on their rent and worried about the expiration of the eviction moratorium on Oct. 17, Bang said. “Housing is one of my biggest concerns. “You have families who are at home, they can’t go back to work because they don’t have the child care, which forces unemployment, and they are falling behind on the rent.”
“There’s a significantly larger stress on individuals who need child care,” Bang reported, and unemployment compounds the problem. “My work is not only connecting with mental health services but also financial supports available right now.”
“We definitely have been getting calls from concerned parents looking to refer their children for counseling, as well as individuals seeking mental health counseling,” Bang said.