Remote mental health help available for social separation

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Social isolation can be difficult for all communities, but especially for those with other mental health challenges, area counselors say.

Isolation and mental health needs are an even higher priority as a result of social restrictions forced in place due to the coronavirus pandemic worldwide. Positive cases in the state have led to restrictions and closures of places where people gather, from restaurants and bars to community services and churches.

“We recognize the stress of the times and are concerned for our patients, neighbors and friends. If a person is struggling with emotional well-being, we recommend communicating with trained professionals,” Barrett Hospital Licensed Clinical Social Workers Jenny Given and Amy Wellborn wrote in an email response. That includes talking with the person’s primary physician, though all emergencies should start with a 911 call.

But health providers can be busy in a crisis, so Given and Wellborn suggested doing what people can to remain positive and active, outside of an emergency.

“Making the best use of this time is one way to stay active and engaged without unnecessary exposure to others. Although social distancing is key, we want to promote healthy connections through all resources,” they wrote. “Remember social distancing is not the same as isolation. In order to avoid depression and loneliness, stay in communication with your loved ones.”

Some ideas for activities include finishing crafts at home, reading, hiking, baking, seeking free educational classes online, doing unfinished projects around the house, resting and relaxing if possible. Some national gyms are also offering free workouts online.

Pioneer Counseling and Wellness Licensed Clinical and Professional Counselor Heidi Gjefle encouraged keeping in touch with friends and relatives by telephone or online chat. Keeping tabs on family, friends and neighbors helps stay connected and individuals keep an eye out for someone who may need a little more emotional support.

“Most of us have well-worn patterns, and know the patterns of our neighbors. We can notice changes in those patterns and check in to see how our neighbors are doing,” she wrote in an email response. “We can still lift each other up from a distance by calling, texting, offering to pick up a few things for an elderly neighbor when we make our outing to the supermarket, doing some yard clean-up for them as the weather turns nicer.”

Parents working from home may also be dealing with the stress of children at home. Some tips for them include keeping a schedule for everyone to stay productive and organized.

“Intentional structure – with built-in flexibility – can maintain some semblance of order when it feels there’s chaos about. And an important part of that schedule and structure includes creating breaks, and time for fun, restorative activities,” she wrote. “Getting outside and moving can break up the monotony of a long day working at home. Planning and cooking meals together, spending time with pets and other purposeful activities or projects around the house can help.”

Some things people should not do include panic buying and hoarding, as everyone needs those basic supplies for survival. People should also not ignore safety mandates put in place by government authorities; and individuals should continue basic self-care, which includes taking prescribed medications, exercising and eating healthy.

Statewide health providers are expanding telehealth options in light of the coronavirus closures and restrictions, and residents should check in with their providers to see what options are available to them.

University of Montana Western students continue to have access to counseling services on campus and online, Director of Student Counseling Jerry Girard said. However, it is recommended to call or email counselors first to ensure proper social distancing protocols are in place if the student needs a face-to-face consultation. People can walk into the counseling center if needed, but Girard asks students to not do that if they have symptoms of illness.

The local Resource Assistance Center’s operations may change due to state office closures, as some of those offices are working remotely. To contact the local Office of Public Assistance (OPA) agent, call 406-496-4947 on Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m (except from 12-1 p.m.). There is no voicemail, so keep trying if you cannot get through. More information about the OPA can be obtained by calling 888-706-1535, and specific email contacts can be found at

Local faith organizations are adjusting gatherings to support local and state public health recommendations. Each is responding differently, so the best way to find out what’s going on is to call or check their web pages or Facebook pages first. Residents can also call the Dillon area Love INC, a partnership of area churches, Love INC Executive Director Laura Malesich said. Love INC is now open from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday to Friday, and can be reached by phone at 406-660-3636 or by email at

Residents can also contact the Community Support Center at 406-683-6106 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, or 800-253-9811 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For public safety, the employees are providing services remotely as much as possible.