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COVID-19 impacting mental health, domestic disturbance calls to law enforcement

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IDAHO FALLS — The statewide stay-home order is designed to protect a person’s physical health. But the isolation, and change in routine also has an impact on a person’s mental health — and often it’s not a good one.

The Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office said of late, they have seen an increase in mental health and domestic disturbance calls. The Idaho Falls Police Department said their call volume is close to what it was last year at this time, but that a significant portion of their psychiatric and suicidal calls now have a COVID-19 element to them.

“What it looks like to us, is that this time frame, coupled with the fact that people aren’t able to go through their normal patterns or movements that they would this time of year, all of that starts to impact those numbers,” Bonneville County Sheriff’s Cpt. Sam Hulse told EastIdahoNews.com.

Hulse said they’ve had about a 50% increase in domestic disturbance calls over the last month-and-a-half. In February, Hulse said they had 29 domestic disturbances and 43 in March. In April 2019, they reported 18 domestic disturbance calls, and halfway through April 2020, they’ve already had more than 15.

Hulse explained where there’s now more forced interaction between people due to isolation and if they aren’t getting along, that can increase the disturbance rates.

“What people would have maybe done to defuse this situation before, maybe they’re not able to do as easily now because of the inability to get out and get away from the situation,” he said. “Plus, everybody’s stressed out. And when you throw into that, that some people aren’t working right now — which creates all kinds of money issues and everything else — that increases that stress load.”

Idaho Falls Police reported 99 domestic disturbance calls from March 15, 2019, to April 15, 2019. During that same timeframe, but in 2020, they had 91.

“We had a little bit of a lull for a couple of weeks, and then (calls) picked up and is right back where it would be, so domestic violence calls are right at the same number, not statistically really much different,” Chief Bryce Johnson said.

When it comes to mental health, Hulse said they were prepared for an increase in mental health-related calls in the springtime, but that the numbers seem slightly higher than usual.

“Statistically, most people would think that it’d be the wintertime, but actually, our call rates for suicide attempts and also completion actually go up in the springtime and it’s usually right around that April-May timeline,” Hulse said. “So it’s a little early this year because we started to see that uptick in March.”

The sheriff’s office reports show that they were called for suicide investigations 19 times in February and 36 times in March 2020.

Johnson said they had 52 suicidal calls during this time period last year and it’s gone up slightly to 55 calls in that same timeframe in 2020.

“Our mental health numbers are skyrocketing every year. We have a lot of mental health calls. We had a lot of them last year as well. The numbers are looking pretty similar overall,” Johnson said. “But the folks that are struggling with mental health are deciding COVID-19 is what their struggle is right now.”

Idaho Falls Police statistics show 15 psychiatric calls took place over a one month span from March to April last year, and in that same time this year, they’ve doubled it with 33 calls. However, the increase is likely not because of the virus.

“That’s probably because we’re doing a better job of documenting them as psychiatric calls,” Johnson said. He explained that’s something the department has working on doing.

Once the isolation period is over, Hulse expects they’ll receive less mental health and domestic disturbance calls because of two reasons.

“Number one is if we’re able to get out more, that naturally diffuses those (domestic disturbance) situations,” Hulse said. “The other thing that comes with that is summertime is coming so we have longer periods of light and people are out for longer periods of time. They’re not cooped up as much. They’re able to go out and do a lot of physical activity. All of those things help with the mental health side of things.”

Suicide Prevention Resources

  • If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, EastIdahoNews.com encourages you to call the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline at (208) 398-HELP [4357] or (800) 273-TALK [8255].
  • Behavioral Health Crisis Center (Idaho Falls): (208) 522-0727
  • Behavioral Health Center (EIRMC, Idaho Falls): (208) 227-2100
  • South East Idaho Behavioral Crisis Center (Pocatello): (208) 909-5177
  • Portneuf Behavioral Health Services (PMC, Pocatello): (208) 239-2571
  • Idaho Crisis Hotline: (208) 788-3596
  • Idaho Department of Health and Welfare number for Idahoans to call with questions about COVID-19 or the statewide stay-home order: (888) 330-3010
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