When it comes to mental health, COVID-19 makes matters worse

Part 2 of our 3 part series for Mental Health Awareness Month

The COVID-19 pandemic has been causing a lot of anxiety and stress for everyone, and that, of course, includes our guests, especially for those struggling with their mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and with COVID-19 wreaking havoc on our routines, we wanted to talk about this important issue and how it pertains to our guests experiencing homelessness.

Some guests of St. Francis House who may have been coping relatively well prior to COVID-19, unfortunately now find themselves struggling more. They’re spending their nights and days in places where it’s difficult to maintain social distancing and are exposed to many more COVID vectors than those who are able to stay in their homes. The lack of certainty as far as when programs and services will return to normal, when the RMV and Social Security office will open, etc., causes considerable anxiety and discomfort for our guests.

Because of the safety issues that come with COVID-19, the majority of mental health care is now being delivered through telehealth, which is not an ideal way to work with those experiencing homelessness. It requires more coordination, and the guest must have access to a phone or computer, and some privacy!

Due to COVID-19 and public safety concerns, we are less able to “meet guests where they’re at” in the moment. Rather than getting help right away, some guests are seeing more barriers to their mental health care. Fewer shelters are accepting new guests right now, leaving some guests with limited options when it comes to where they can stay at night, which certainly adds to stress.

In addition, certain therapeutic programs, such as the St. Francis House art therapy studio, have had to temporarily close. With no volunteers, there’s no music or choir group, either. These programs offered our guests “space” to be creative and explore, as well as build a positive community, which is extremely important for people with severe trauma and mental illness. While our Women’s Center and the Recovery Support Center are both still active and available, the loss of our creative therapy programs has been felt.

The pandemic itself incites fear and anxiety among our community, as it does with the general population, but the guests who find comfort at St. Francis House do not have access to the same protections that the rest of us do.

In the third part of our series, we’ll explore the great effort St. Francis House staff are making with our guests, ensuring that not only their mental health needs are met, but resources are made available and accessible to them.

Read: Part 3: Mental Health Awareness Month: Serving our guests, pandemic or not.

For more information on the Clinical and Recovery Offices at St. Francis House, you can read more about our services on our website here.