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By Joe Livernois
For services that have long relied on person-to-person contacts, mental health professionals on the Central Coast are ramping up teleconferencing therapy sessions.
From the “warm line” set up by Interim Inc. to a series of Zoom sessions hosted by the Monterey County Behavioral Health Department that are due to launch on Monday to individual sessions with individual therapists, mental health specialists are prepared to help while maintaining social distancing.
“It took a few weeks to be able to train the parents how to use a Zoom or a Google Hangout or use their phone to connect via audio,” said Rosa Rivas, a volunteer teacher for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Monterey County.
The group she leads are generally parents of those who are working through mental-health challenges with loved ones at home. She said her group members were “overwhelmed” by the stay-at-home order “and didn’t know where to turn to. They worried about appointments, about what would happen if their loved ones needed to be hospitalized.”
Rivas was in the eighth week of her weekly “de Familia a Familia” class when the shelter-in-place order came down and she had to work with attendees to figure out how to use apps to keep the sessions going. “I used the first two weeks to have them practice joining the links I sent them via phone text or through WhatsApp, and while we stayed connected, I listened to what they had to say regarding what was happening around them and provided NAMI informational resource and community resources regarding mental health and the COVID-19.”
Meanwhile, Interim Inc., which operates housing projects for the mentally ill, developed a “warm line” program to replace the popular Omni Center drop-in programs. With its Warm Line, clients can call, text or email a support worker to talk to. It is staffed Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The phone number for direct contacts is 831-800-7660, the text number is 831-998-7916 and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
As of last week, Lucero Robles of the Monterey County Behavioral Health Department said that her office hasn’t seen a significant increase in the number of people calling her department seeking help. This might seem odd, considering the stress people are going through at the moment with the loss of jobs and the uncertain future.
“We think people are trying to adjust and get their needs met first,” said Robles, the deputy director at Behavioral Health. “I think we’ll be seeing more.” The county set up a call center for people who are seeking help for mental-health and/or substance-use issues.
That number is 1-888-258-6029. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
On Monday, the Behavioral Health Department is setting up what it calls Forward Together, a series of daily teleconferencing-based sessions that will cover a variety of topics for specific people, ranging from parents to health-care workers. The Zoom sessions are free and will be led by licensed therapists within the Behavioral Health Department. Sessions are available in English and in Spanish.
Forward Together will not provide one-on-one sessions, but there are educational programs about maintaining good mental health in online programs that could accommodate up to 500 people, according to Dr. Aime Miller, the director of the county’s Behavioral Health Department.
“The truth is, no one can really wrap their heads around this yet. No one can begin to digest what’s happening right now." Bonnie Bufkin
Bonnie Bufkin, a marriage and family therapist from Carmel, said she is still “seeing” people, but her meetings are strictly via teleconference. She believes people are still “paralyzed” by what is happening around them. The shock of the new reality hasn’t set in yet, she said.
“The truth is, no one can really wrap their heads around this yet,” Bufkin said. “No one can begin to digest what’s happening right now. A lot of people don’t even know to ask the question. People don’t even have the reflective consciousness for that yet.”
“I think what’s going to start happening is that people are going to start developing anticipation grief,” she said, describing a condition that people develop when someone they love is near death.
For those who need one-on-one services with a therapist or psychiatrist but are unable to book time with local professionals — they’re very busy these days — Bufkin suggests a couple of online therapy companies, including TalkSpace and BetterHelp.
“They’re simple and good for people who can’t get out,” she said. “It’s a more accessible way to get easy care.”
Editor’s note: Joe Livernois is president of NAMI Monterey County.
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