Americans’ feeling of well-being. A poll last week released by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that more than half of adults thought the crisis was affecting their mental health. And according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety has roughly tripled since this time last year. This has obvious implications for public services on Long Island.
The rate of known cases is relatively low on the East End, but even if the virus itself seems remote, its impacts are not. In the back of many minds there may lurk a new specter of death, but immediate concerns — about jobs, the future, and struggling family members — take precedence. For adults and children alike, social isolation can be painful. Remote learning has and will likely create new stresses for kids and parents. Relationships may be strained by worry and even by forced proximity. Work suffers, and creative pursuits become difficult, if not somehow impossible. Alcohol and drug abuse is on the rise. This means that mental health care is needed now more than ever before.
Unfortunately, public — and even private — options are limited. Adolescents in particular are underserved, as are people for whom English is not the primary language at home. In theory, Suffolk County provides most public mental health options for East End residents, but the reality is that the nearest clinic — in Riverhead — is open only two days a week.
The county has a 211 human services hotline that can provide referrals for addiction and psychological care, but few people seem to know about it — the call center received very few requests last year from within the Town of East Hampton, and none from the specific area served by the 11937 ZIP code. The town’s human services agencies focus most of their attention on older people, leaving the young and working-age residents without direct access to mental health options. For the victims of domestic violence and their families, the Retreat has a crucial hotline, 631-329-2200, that can connect to counselors and legal support. There is, however, no comparable general mental-health agency that provides its level of service. The need is unquestionably there.
In good times we know that some portion of the population needs psychological care. This is only being made worse by a pandemic for which no end is in sight. Government must step up right now and provide the mental health services our communities need.