Demand for mental health help continues to grow as pandemic drags on

Posted at 10:17 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-02 23:17:12-05

MILWAUKEE — Local mental health professionals are reporting the demand for counseling continues to grow as the pandemic drags on.

"A lot of people are looking for therapists, and we just don’t have as much availability because our schedule has shrunk so much, because the schools aren’t open and we’re just trying to make it work the best we can," said Julie Witthuhn.

Witthuhn is a licensed professional counselor at West Grove Clinic. Since the start of the pandemic, she said she's taken on one new client she says in part due to those scheduling constraints.

"Sometimes just reaching out is really, really difficult, but when they do, and if they receive a response of, 'oh man, I'm so sorry, I'm not taking new clients.' That's the last thing anybody needs at this point," Witthuhn said.

Mental health professionals locally and nationwide are experiencing the surge. Over the summer, the Centers for Disease Control released a study that found more than 40 percent of respondents reported they were dealing with at least one mental health or substance abuse struggle.

Data from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner shows there were 511 drug overdoses and 123 suicide deaths in 2020, up from 418 overdose and 115 suicide deaths in 2019.

Dr. Brad Smith of Rogers Behavioral Health said during a media call with city and county leaders that he's seeing the onset of anxiety or depression in patients as a result of the pandemic, as well as intensified symptoms in those who struggled before the pandemic.

"That really is what's happening in our anecdotal experience in our clinics and our hospitals, with more individuals coming in with acute mental health crises and having a higher severity of symptoms and challenges that they're facing, compared to our practice even a year or two ago," Smith said.

During the media call, the Clinical Director of Trauma Recovery Services at Rogers Behavioral Health, Dr. Chad Wetterneck, gave some tips to those who might be struggling with mental health. He said with more stress comes the need for more coping skills, such as recognizing things you can't control and practicing gratitude.

"To accept that part of your life is still going right, and for some of you that can be more challenging than others, and you have to look at the point of you're still alive, you may still have people close to you, you still have a job or other things that you engage with on a daily basis, those are things to acknowledge and be grateful for," Wetterneck said.

"This is hard for everybody, and I think that it's important to accept that this is hard for everybody and be kind to yourself," Witthuhn said.

Witthuhn said if you are still searching for a therapist, don't give up.

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