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COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Idahoans’ mental health

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IDAHO FALLS — When Idaho was placed on a statewide stay-home order in March, people’s mental health began to take a hit. Months later, mental health is among the most concerning effects of the pandemic.

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare officials tell EastIdahoNews.com that calls to the COVID Help Now Line have remained consistent since it was made available to the public at the beginning of August. The helpline provides statewide support for people to speak with trained professionals about the stress they are experiencing, discuss coping strategies and explore resources they may need going forward, according to IDHW.

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“Idahoans from all around the state are continuing to reach out for support to cope with the impact of the virus as the pandemic continues to be challenging and stressful,” IDHW spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr says. “As the number of cases continues to climb, we expect that more Idahoans may need some help, and we hope they take advantage of this free service.”

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And it’s not just the hotline operators that are feeling the effects the virus is having on others. Local law enforcement is also seeing the impacts of the pandemic.

“It’s important that we look out for each other.”

Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office and Idaho Falls Police Department officials both say their call volume is up. From January to October 2020, BCSO had approximately 2,500 more calls for service than during those same months in 2019. IFPD says as of October, its calls for service were up about 6% from last year. The department normally expects to only see a 2% to 3% increase every year, according to Chief Bryce Johnson.

Bonneville County Sheriff’s Capt. Sam Hulse says some of the increase in call volume is due to population growth, but he and Johnson say COVID-19 also plays a part in driving the numbers up.

“COVID is the difference, I think,” Johnson says. “Not necessarily just the virus, but the entire criminal justice system has had to respond to COVID, so you have all sorts of factors all going at the same time.”

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During a seven-month period from April to October, IFPD’s mental health calls — including psychiatric and suicidal — were at 623 last year compared to 669 in 2020.

It’s been a little different in the county. Between January to October 2020, BCSO says its number of psychiatric calls went way up, but its suicide-related calls went down. Overall, during those months, BCSO had 354 psychiatric and suicide calls combined in 2019. This year they are standing at 346.

Authorities are also being called to check up on people more often. Welfare checks are up slightly for the sheriff’s office this year, and IFPD is seeing a big increase in welfare checks.

“We were seeing bumps in the data that (are) suggesting that, ‘Hey, this is higher right now,’ but (then) it seems to kind of level out, although that’s still horrendous,” Hulse says. “That’s a ton of suicide calls.”

Johnson and Hulse want people to remember during the pandemic to follow the COVID guidelines and find ways to connect with other people to help their mental health.

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“I think it’s important that we look out for each other, and if you have a friend who’s struggling, recommend to them that they go get help. If you’re struggling yourself, there’s a lot of help out there,” Hulse says. “People should not feel alone.”

More COVID-19 news can be found here.

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