Simplified: We're not out of the woods yet, doctors say. But as pandemic starts to calm – and make its slow transition to an endemic – Sanford and Avera health officials Tuesday advised people to take stock of what the last two years have done to their mental health.

Why it matters

  • Mental health is a topic we're not talking enough about during the pandemic, said Dr. David Basel, vice president of clinical quality with Avera Medical Group, and the impact of the pandemic is "significant."
  • That's showing up in the calls received at the Helpline Center, too. Vice President of Program Development Betsy Schuster said the center has not only seen more calls, but the calls they've seen have been more complicated.
  • People are trying to handle the pandemic and all of its impacts from financial issues to lost loved ones to fear about the future, Schuster added.
  • Avera has seen an increase in mental health needs, and the system is building an addition to its Behavioral Health hospital to help meet that need.
"We'll probably fill that the day it opens," Basel said.

How to recognize when it's time to ask for help

Basel provided a list of things to watch for.

He said to reach out for help if:

  • You feel you are suffering
  • You turn to alcohol or other substances to cope (e.g. more than three drinks in one sitting for women or more than five for men)
  • You've been withdrawn, sad or overly anxious
  • You have difficulty engaging with other people
  • You're seeing a lower performance at school or work
  • You have thoughts of self harm.
"COVID put stress on all of us that we haven't seen in years," Basel said.

That's stress that's also affecting hospital staff, Dr. Mike Wilde, vice president medical officer for Sanford, said. He added that while COVID-19 cases increased, so too did substance abuse and, in turn, violence toward staff.

Where to go when you need help

Certainly, it's a conversation that can start with your primary care doctor. Both Sanford and Avera Health Systems have mental and behavioral health resources.

But, if you don't know where to turn, a good place to start is the 2-1-1 helpline.

The Helpline Center is also a partner with 605 Strong, a statewide resource providing behavioral health vouchers for people who cannot afford therapy sessions.