Make no mistake about it: COVID-19 is a national trauma that will have lasting effects on people in the communities we serve.
Mental health experts are expecting an increase in mental health issues and CoxHealth is preparing to serve more patients as the crisis continues.
“People who already have mental health issues or a history of trauma will struggle more,” says Dayna Harbin, administrative director, Psychiatric Services. “Others who don’t have that history may experience crisis as they work through this significant change.”
COVID-19 creates a perfect storm for mental health challenges. Multiple factors drive stress, from health fears and financial concerns to families dealing with violence or substance abuse in quarantine.
At the same time, avenues for coping – like socializing with friends, going to the gym or to the movies – have been suspended.
And, at least in the early stages of COVID-19, fewer people are seeking mental health care.
“Mental illness is identified more readily by others. It is outside people who often recognize the severity of the need,” Harbin says. “Right now, there are fewer chances for someone to notice a co-worker is depressed, or for a teacher to make a report for a student.”
Harbin says those factors add up to seeing more high-acuity cases.
“It is just now hitting people that this is not a short-term crisis. This isn’t over,” Harbin says.
Preparing for a wave
In just the last week, Harbin and her team have seen more patients who have sought help. They believe those patients are the beginning of a wave of patients we may see as a result of COVID-19.
Leaders hope to help manage that demand, in part, with two psych services projects now underway at Cox North.
In the coming weeks, the facility will see the expansion of the Child-Adolescent Unit and a refresh of the adult unit.
The Child Adolescent Unit, which covers F1 and G1 at Cox North, will expand into the entirety of the G hallway.
When the project is complete, the unit will feature 16 private rooms.
Harbin says the privacy is key to serving more patients. Currently, only two rooms on the unit are private.
Harbin points out the nature of mental health care means there are limitations on the unit’s ability to house children together.
In cases when a patient’s condition prevents him or her from having a roommate, the second bed in the room goes unused.
“Now, we will be able to run all 16 rooms. We expect the need to grow to fill all 16 of those beds,” Harbin says. “Working at full capacity on the child unit helps us meet the needs of more kids in our community.”
Meanwhile, Adult Psych I is set to undergo a renovation, updating plumbing, replacing windows and refreshing the color scheme.
Harbin says those moves create a better healing environment.
“A refresh helps us beat the stigma of mental illness for adult patients,” she says. “Being admitted to a light, bright and up-to-date unit lets patients know their illness is treated seriously, just like if they were on a medical floor.”
The renovation will include updated day areas for recreation and spaces for group therapy.
“There is all kinds of research that color, light and space make a huge impact on mood and mental state,” Harbin says. “This makes a real difference for patients and we are so appreciative of the great support Administration has given.”