CBS 58 Investigates: Experts bracing for mental health crisis this winter
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- It’s cold, it’s dark, and sometimes it’s tough to even get out of bed. We all have “those days” during a typical Wisconsin winter. But this season isn’t typical because of COVID-19, and mental health professionals are sounding the alarm. They are bracing for higher rates of depression, addiction, and suicides.
Because of the pandemic, the numbers are jarring even before winter really kicks in, according to Jerry Halverson, chief medical officer for Rogers Behavioral Health. “The emergency management system of Milwaukee County in particular have told us that suicides have been up by multiples, three to four times what they were before,” he said.
Halverson says cases of depression are up, as well as cases of alcohol and drug dependence, and they stand to get even worse "as it gets colder and there is less light, it’s documented, people’s moods go down,” Halverson said.
Marissa Baylerian knows the dangers of ignoring your mental health. After moving to Arizona, her doctor stopped her medication, and she stopped going to therapy. That set her down a dark path. "I ended up getting to the point where I thought the easiest way out was to die by suicide,” Baylerian said. "I’m going to sit in a car, I’m going to turn the car on and I’m going to suffocate myself to death."
About five years ago, Baylerian decided to check herself into a mental hospital. Today, she partners with Rogers Behavioral Hospital to help end the stigma surrounding mental health.
And there will be more people who could use professional help this winter, according to Halverson. “Even more than normal, we really encourage people to take care of themselves,” he said.
But what does taking care of yourself mean? Halverson says in the most simple terms, it means doing things that you enjoy. What makes that not simple is that COVID-19 and the cold weather will take many of the things we enjoy away. “The fun things, often times, that we do in the winter in groups are indoors, and those are going to be of higher risk,” Halverson said.
So what we enjoy may have to change. It might take self-analysis to find out what really makes us happy, and it might take switching up our routines. “It’s a new 2020 thing where we definitely have to figure out how to live and how to do things that we value and enjoy,” Halverson said.
Also a 2020 thing, asking for professional help if you need it. Halverson understands it’s not easy because of stigma, and it’s not easy because it’s hard to recognize the need. “When people feel worse, they kind of get used to feeling worse and they don’t necessarily get that they are not taking care of themselves,” he said.
Baylerian says be ready to take the first step and ask for help. It changed her life, and it can do the same for you “There’s hope, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It’s going to take work, it’s not going to be easy. But just realizing that you can do it, you can take that next step,” she said.
One simple tip from Halverson: no matter how cold or windy or snowy it is, force yourself to go outside regularly. Dress for the weather, stay socially distanced, but mom was right when she told you “fresh air will do you some good.”
With the high demand for mental health and addiction treatment, Rogers continues to have career opportunities at a variety of levels. Viewers can learn more here.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline operates 24/7: 1-800-273-8255
Text HOPELINE to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor.