Holiday Mental Health

Volunteer Sharon Swartling shows receptionist Carol Gelhoff a sign she bought Friday during the annual Craft Fair at Bay Area Hospital in Coos Bay. Coos County faces a higher suicide rate than the state average and rates throughout the country have risen, but county officials report spikes in the month of December don't occur, as often is believed.

COOS COUNTY — For many community members, it’s long been believed that the holiday season not only brings with it a wide range of festivities and joyfulness, but also an increase in suicide rates and depression.

People walk through the lobby Friday at Bay Area Hospital in Coos Bay. Health officials report that Coos County doesn't see a spike in suicide…

However, national studies and local Coos County healthcare officials beg to differ. While the county faces a higher suicide rate than the state average and rates throughout the country have risen, spikes in the month of December seem to be false.

“I think people experience more levels of stress and generally feel more demands about what the holidays mean,” said David Geels, behavioral health director at Coos Health and Wellness. “But, depression doesn’t really know a season. The symptoms are not any higher during the holidays.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, its health statistics reports show that the national suicide rate is lowest in December with peaks generally showing up in the spring and fall.

In a June Vital Signs report by the CDC, it showed suicide rates have increased overall by more than 30 percent since 1999 in about half of the states throughout the country. Currently, Oregon ranks eighth in the U.S. and Coos County fourth within the state of areas where suicide is the leading cause of death.

“We have a range of crisis services for people of all ages,” Geels said. “We have a 24/7 crisis hotline, a mobile response team and our own outpatient services.”

As of now, CHW contracts about 20 counselors throughout the community and in the county’s school districts. According to Geels, its department is still in the process of recruiting providers for the Myrtle Point and Powers school districts which currently services about 1,600 people throughout the county on a number of varied mental health conditions.

“The state of Oregon has been in agreement with U.S. Department of Justice to do a better job of working with people with more severe and chronic mental illness,” Geels said. “Part of that is to help provide community responses for those individuals other than just hospitalization.”

CHW’s brief therapy crisis manager Megan Ridle oversees the 24/7 mobile response team, which works with law enforcement and community partners to aid individuals in crisis by providing them with the appropriate help and resources needed for treatment.

“We started doing more mobile crisis work about a year ago,” Ridle said. “In October, we moved to 24-hours because we were able to add two additional case managers and operate full time.”

According to CHW’s reports, since Oct. 1 the mobile response team has responded to 113 calls throughout the county. Among those calls, 60 percent of individuals remained within their community and 40 percent required some level of higher care or was already placed in jail or at a local hospital.  

“We were very busy in October and going into November, but it stopped a little bit,” Ridle said. “We noticed an increase in the fall but things usually start to staggering a bit and leveling out.”

As every case is different, the mobile response team oftentimes aids individuals on a variety of mental health problems beyond suicidal subjects. 

Along with Geels, Ridle agrees with national reports citing spikes in suicide rates generally don’t occur during the holiday season (December), but rather during the fall and spring months.

According to the Coos Bay Police Department’s call logs, there were no reported suicides in October, November and so far in December for the city of Coos Bay. However, it showed officers responded to 61 cases of individuals threatening suicide.

While national statistics show a low number of suicides in December, Advanced Health’s director of community engagement Laura Williams said its organization wanted to focus this month’s informational campaign on mental health and how it relates to the residents of Coos and Curry counties.

“We wanted to be proactive and encourage our community to focus on maintaining good mental health,” Williams said. “For some the holidays can potentially be one of the happiest times of the year, but for others it can be stressful, sad and isolating.”

Williams said its campaign provides residents with steps they can take to de-stress, seek additional resources if needed and to learn and recognize their own possible triggers.

Medical director of Bay Area Hospital’s Acute Psychiatric Unit Dr. Pallav Pareek said its unit has not seen a large number of patients come in as a result of holidays. On average he said, they will see about eight patients a day.

The hospital is the only inpatient facility on the South Coast that provides psychiatric services to those in the area. The 11-bed facility is currently undergoing a remodel which will feature a new design to increase its patient safety and care. The remodel is scheduled to be completed in the next few weeks.

“The holidays are still a very stressful time of the year,” Dr. Pareek said. “It can be especially difficult for children in foster care and those in difficult situations. We as a community should keep a close watch for others and seek help if they feel they need it.”

Getting help

For anyone interested in contacting the Coos County 24-hour crisis hotline you can do so by dialing 541-266-6800 or 1-888-543-5763 or you can text Hello to 741741. For more information on services, visit http://www.co.coos.or.us/Departments/CoosHealthWellness/BehavorialHealth.aspx.

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