As cases of the coronavirus continue to rise, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the state made several changes to how behavioral and mental health services are delivered, like delivering medically assisted treatment for substance use or waiving the costs of mental health services delivered via telehealth.

In Western New York, removing those barriers means mental health services can continue to help the community.

“We’re aware that we need to be accessible to people seeking out our services. Most of us are continuing to provide services to all of the people who have been enrolled in our services up until now,” said Howard Hitzel, president, and CEO of BestSelf Behavioral Health. “We’re really moving to provide most of those services telephonically, so we’re not putting anyone’s health at risk.”

Mental health providers recommend that people with pre-existing mental and behavioral conditions continue their treatment plans.

But worries about job loss, financial stress, and the health of loved ones are extensions of the pandemic that impact the general public.

“More broadly there is a lot of apprehension and concern about health, about what’s going on from a financial standpoint, social isolation — how long is this all going to last — kids being home from school, [being] worried about the elderly or sick,” said Ken Houseknecht, executive director of Mental Health Advocates of WNY.

Taking care of your mental health is paramount in this pandemic, according to experts.

In addition to removing barriers to telehealth, Gov. Cuomo announced more than 10,000 mental health professionals volunteered to man New York’s free emotional helpline for the state’s need.

“Some of the challenges is just getting the word out, I think people assume in this situation that you’re closed and certain resources aren’t available,” Hitzel said. “It’s really just trying to get out there through social media and other means to get the word out that services are available and we’re there to assist people.”

COVID-19 continues to change the norms of American life, including how mental and behavioral health care is delivered.

But resources are still available in the eight counties of Western New York — even if how they’re delivered are changing, said Houseknecht.

“If you were a person getting mental health support beforehand, keep getting that mental health support through this. [Just] might be a different way of receiving it,” he said. “As we’re going through all of this, be a little bit more patient, be a little bit kinder, be a little more tolerant, be a little bit more generous — with others, and with yourself.” 

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