CHICO — Mental health services are being requested at higher rates in the fall as Butte County moves into a less restrictive operating tier for the coronavirus pandemic.
As more evidence shows reduced reporting of crises during COVID-19, Scott Kennelly, director at Butte County Behavioral Health, has warned the long term impacts of the lockdown and restrictions will not be known for years.
New reports of all services from October 2018 to September 2020 show substantial changes in calls and admissions to Butte County Behavioral Health, largely affected by the Camp Fire and the COVID-19 pandemic.
While in 2019 there was a small increase in crisis calls and mental health services, likely due to the fire, in 2020 the pandemic led to dramatic reductions in services across the board. The county saw an overall 11% decrease in all clients served, 13% fewer crisis (face to face) encounters and nearly 8% fewer crisis phone calls.
There was also a 24% decrease in all inpatient admissions. Much lower numbers of youth admissions were seen than adults, at a reduction of 27% — compared to a reduction of 6% in adults — since the 2018-2019 period.
The decrease in admissions may be attributable to less visibility for those suffering from mental health crises or illnesses. Director Scott Kennelly said the biggest obstacle for the center has been the pandemic, which has further restricted people’s ability to seek help and willingness to risk exposure to COVID-19 at a clinic.
“In Butte County we found a lot of fear people expressed about coming in (for help) due to COVID-19,” he said. Even with difficulties gauging existing problems, the county can predict that substance abuse and mental issues can increase as people isolate.
“The problems exist; they’re just staying at home.”
Even more troubling, domestic violence and child abuse are not being discovered as quickly as people isolate as home and avoid non-essential activity, just as was expected earlier in the spring.
A new study from Boston physicians reported in August found a near-doubling of the proportion of domestic abuse cases resulting in physical injury, in comparison with previous years. Kennelly said in Butte County as well, it is likely patients are waiting to be admitted until their injuries are much more serious, as doctors are seeing higher rates of severe injuries and bodily trauma. Only in CAT scans and other tests can physicians find evidence of injuries from violence that are not as visible and may have been hidden while a patient was isolated at home, he said.
This evidence shows while physical violence may be increasing and escalating as people are isolated from witnesses, reporting of abuse remains down in the 2019-2020 countywide report.
While telehealth services have been offered and encouraged for those needing help, it has been difficult for clients to adjust — a trend seen across the country.
Effects on youth
From 2018 to 2019, 2,579 Behavioral Health clients who…