JFS: “Perfect storm” sees heightened need for mental health counseling

June 23, 2022

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Think about it: the world went through a pandemic, a lockdown, reintegration, new variants, social isolation, and financial uncertainty. Why wouldn’t anxiety be at an all-time high?

“The level of stress has exploded,” says Debra Mayer, LCSW, CT director of clinical services at Jewish Family Service of Tidewater. “Since COVID started, the trend we are seeing is that everybody across the country has a demand for service greater than the providers that are available. This is especially true in working with children and the elderly.”

JFS provides counseling services for people from ages two through 100. Outpatient counseling is available for individuals, couples, and families. Currently, three full-time LCSWs and three part-time LCSWs are employed to provide the counseling. But for the first time in 25 years, there’s a waiting list for services, so it’s time to grow and Mayer says JFS is  actively looking for more staff.

“There was always a shortage of mental health providers, especially psychiatrists, but that shortage has gotten worse,” Mayer notes. Family doctors and pediatricians are now stepping up to prescribe psychiatric medication because it can take three to six months to get an appointment with a psychiatrist.

“If a child is properly diagnosed with ADD [for example], most pediatricians feel fairly confident to treat that. But if the diagnosis is anxiety or depression, they really want them to see a specialist,” says Mayer.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, JFS began to deliver counseling services through telehealth. Now, they’re moving back to in-office appointments while keeping some telehealth patients, making it a hybrid situation. The insurance companies, Mayer relates, revise telehealth coverage guidelines frequently, but she hopes JFS will be able to stick with the hybrid model. It’s especially important to keep telehealth for the elderly that do not drive, she says.

Mayer is also a Certified Thanatologist (grief counselor), and she and her staff specialize in grief counseling. This includes coping with life transitions, divorce, and illness, as well as the death of a loved one. For the past 21 years, JFS has also partnered with Edmarc Hospice to provide “Peace by Piece” which are free community support groups for grieving children and their families.

“So much of it has piled up on people,” says Mayer. “The elderly are experiencing lots of isolation. For kids, it’s been difficult to not be around other children for so long. Now that they’re back with other kids, it’s been hard for them to reintegrate.”

For more information, contact JFS at www.jfshamptonroads.org or 757-459-4640.

-Debbie Burke
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