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By the time the press conference began Thursday afternoon, Greene County had 35 COVID-19-related deaths so far in October. There were 47 deaths in September. 

“We are far too rapidly approaching exceeding that 47 number this month already,” said Clay Goddard, director of the Springfield-Greene County Health Department. “The families of 112 people are mourning a loss of loved ones taken from them too soon. 

“A lot of us are mourning in other ways,” he continued. “What we thought 2020 might be has been pushed to the side by a virus. We miss our friends and family members that we’ve had to be physically distanced from. Some of us have faced economic hardship and uncertainty. We’ve had to navigate a new normal with kids at home and virtual learning.”

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The press conference was held to discuss the toll COVID-19 is taking on people’s mental health and share information about services available 24 hours a day through Burrell Behavioral Health Center.

At a press conference Thursday, Burrell’s President and CEO Dr. C.J. Davis said the center has seen a 25 to 30 percent increase in people accessing services this year compared to the same time last year.

“This has been life-altering,” Davis said of the pandemic. “It’s very important that all of us recognize the many feelings that we feel during this period: anger, frustration, depression, anxiety, social isolation and bereavement of loss.”

Davis spoke about the projected “deaths of despair” during the pandemic.

“We can anticipate that somewhere between 75,000 to 150,000 more deaths related to overdoses and suicide,” he said.

Burrell has a 24-hour crisis line available for anyone to call when they are distressed or thinking about suicide. Davis said calls to that line have increased from about 50 calls a month prior to the pandemic to around 250 to 300 a month. 

“We want you to know that we are there for you and that care is available,” he said. “There are reasons for hope though. Hope and healing is what our community is about right now. It’s about what organizations like Burrell are about, where we try to pull together resources to provide each of you hope and healing through a very stressful time.”

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Davis said Burrell has developed several specialized programs for people this year to help people through the pandemic.

For example, Burrell has a new eating disorders program.

“During COVID, during quarantining, during isolation and during higher levels of stress, we have noticed that more and more people are developing eating disorders,” Davis said.

“Our ongoing time of uncertainty continues and again, it’s normal for all of us to feel the impact on our mental health,” he said. “Don’t suffer in silence. Suffering in silence from mental health was something that happened years ago when services weren’t as readily available as they are today. Reach out. Get in care. Stay in care. Connections are always available.”

Burrell offers the following resources:

The Crisis Hotline: Southwest Missouri is 800-494-7355 and Central Missouri is 800-395-2132. This is available 24-7.

The Behavioral Crisis Center is at 800 S. Park and is also available 24-7. This is for individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis. Patients can stay in the unit for up to 23 hours until they are stabilized. They can shower, if needed, and have a meal. No appointment is needed and people can walk in to receive a clinical intake for all Burrell services, same-day psychiatry consults, and medication-assisted treatment services for those struggling with opioid use.

Before leaving the unit, they will be connected with the most appropriate resources, whether that be outpatient psychiatry services, inpatient psychiatric care, medication or a substance use provider.

The Connection Center is at 1300 E. Bradford Parkway, Building A, and is open 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Davis encouraged anyone who is experiencing distress and needing care to come to the Connection Center. No appointment is necessary.

The Be Well Community happens 12:45-1:15 p.m. every day on Burrell’s Facebook page. Davis described the Facebook live event as a way to “address self care through brain science and connection and support for anybody in the community that wants to connect with others.”

“We want to encourage people to find care, find behavioral health care and stay in care,” Davis said. “Care right now is easier than it’s ever been before. All the traditional barriers of service to accessing mental health care in the past have virtually gone away. We now offer the ability to have telephonic services and Zoom and virtual services at any given moment in time. … You can have services when you want and where you want.”

A discussion about suicide

According to Davis, Greene County’s suicide rate is higher than the state of Missouri’s, which is higher than the national average.

“I’m going to plead to the parents that are listening,” Davis said at the press conference. “One in six teens will consider suicide. I want to repeat that: one in six teens right now would consider suicide.

“We want them and you to be here today and be here every other day,” he said.

And it’s not just young people who are struggling during the pandemic. According to Davis, one in 11 people report thoughts of wanting to end their life in the past 90 days.

The rise in unemployment also causes the suicide rate to increase, Davis said.

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“In the coming months you are going to hear about Burrell Behavioral Health’s One Initiative,” Davis said. “It’s going to address a community problem around suicide with a community solution.”

Davis went on to discuss some common myths about suicide.

The first myth is that only people with mental health disorders are suicidal. 

“That’s not true,” Davis said. “There are variables that impact suicide such as hopelessness, isolation and interpersonal loss that are not necessarily related to mental health conditions.”

Another myth is that someone who is suicidal is determined to die. That’s not true, Davis said. If one person reaches out to someone considering suicide, the odds that person commits suicide are reduced significantly.

“The last myth I want to address is people who talk about suicide do not mean it,” Davis said. “That is a myth. If somebody is talking about suicide, we have to take those comments and statements seriously, including kids.

“It only takes one person to save a life when it comes to suicide,” he said. “Just one person. Be the one.”

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