Maine continues to address health challenges spurred by pandemic

Maine Behavioral Healthcare has tracked more suicide deaths during COVID-19 than in the previous five years.

by | January 1, 2023

Photo by Egoitz Bengoetxea Iguaran/iStock

Throughout 2022, it was clear that Mainers are still grappling with the mental health toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Surveys of the state’s high school students found that nearly 43% reported their mental health was not good “most of the time” or “always” during the pandemic. Maine health experts and advocates called the statistics “staggering,” “terrifying” and “heartbreaking.”

Overdose deaths in Maine, according to the latest report, are on track to pass last year’s record of 631. Substance use continued to increase, including for health care providers, while there were few resources for uninsured Mainers to withdraw from alcohol or drugs. Suicide attempts continued to rise as the number of psychiatrists in the state continued to drop.

Linda Durst, chief medical officer with Maine Behavioral Healthcare, told The Maine Monitor she has tracked more suicide deaths during the pandemic than in the previous five years. This could be because as the pandemic dragged on, “people have gotten less hopeful,” Durst said.

But there are efforts to address the despair. Gov. Janet Mills allocated $230 million for behavioral health services this fiscal year, including a one-time boost of $15 million for providers that began being distributed earlier this year. In December, state lawmakers proposed bills for the next legislative session that would provide federal funding for mental health resources.

High school programs like Sources of Strength empower students to help each other build coping skills through adult advisors and peer leaders. The Sources of Strength club at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle created posters, wrote an article for the newspaper, started an Instagram page and gave presentations during community meetings, said Lisa Katz, a social worker at the school.

“Because we were all thrown into this situation together and the boat was upset for everybody, maybe there is an opening there to talk more about mental health and about feeling off or having a rough time. In that sense, it was so universal that maybe it’s a given more young people permission to say, ‘I’m not feeling OK’ or ‘I do need extra help here.’ ”

 

If you or someone you know is affected by any issue raised in this story, call the Maine crisis hotline at 888-568-1112 or text the national crisis line at 741741. You can also dial 988 to be connected to the hotline.

Rose Lundy covers healthcare for The Maine Monitor. Reach her by email with other story ideas: rose@themainemonitor.org

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Rose Lundy

Rose Lundy

Rose Lundy is the public health reporter for The Maine Monitor, and is a 2020 Report for America corps member. Rose previously covered politics and local government for three years at The Daily News in southwest Washington. She grew up in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Wisconsin.


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