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Increase in pandemic-induced substance abuse expected

Churches and ministries that work with those struggling with substance abuse may become more critical than ever during the ongoing pandemic. Mark Stringer, director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, expects an increase in cases as people grapple with anxiety and depression.

“Like people losing their jobs and having mounting debt and being worried about loved ones, things like that that can really push people over the edge and into some either behaviors that cause some problems later or sooner or some sort of mental illness,” he said.

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Missouri, like Kansas and other state providers, continues to work with those struggling with addiction, even though some traditional group meetings and programming are not available during the health crisis, Stringer said.

“They’re doing it by telephone, by telehealth,” he said. “They’re doing virtual groups, for example –- minimally staying in phone contact with the people they serve. For the general public, there are some pretty good online sources of information. Alcoholics Anonymous’ website has got quite a bit of resources”

Stringer reports a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in the number of substance abuse calls through the state’s 24/7 general behavioral health crisis hotline. The Access Crisis Intervention hotline – operated by the state’s Community Mental Health Centers – gets about 70,000 calls per year.

“A lot of those were people who are getting mental health or substance misuse disorder services and are concerned about their services continuing and being able to get the medications they need and things like that,” he said. “But then a lot were new callers too, people who weren’t in our system who were just experiencing a lot of stress and related problems because of this situation we are in.”

It’s not known how much the pandemic will affect the increase in coming months.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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