NEWS RELEASE: Mental health awareness during the COVID-19 pandemic

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NEWS RELEASE  I  May 28, 2021


Media Contact:
Kristina Wieghmink, public information officer

text/mobile: 616-510-8523 or

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month--Even with May coming to a close, it is still important to focus on mental health. The Ottawa County Department of Public Health (OCDPH) is promoting the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) movement to raise awareness about mental health. Millions of people in the United States are affected by mental illness. About 1 in 5 adults experience mental illnesses and 1 in 6 adolescents between the ages of 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. Mental health is a continuing struggle for many Americans. It's important to address mental illnesses, eliminate the stigmas and connect people to resources for a happy, healthy community. 

"Many people have increased stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Amy Sheele, health educator with Ottawa County Department of Public Health. "This is normal and expected. We encourage anyone who's experiencing these to take care of their mental health and do simple things like taking a walk and deep breathing. In case of a crisis, please reach out to Ottawa County's crisis lines or support groups which can be found at"

Community Mental Health of Ottawa County states, taking care of your mental health needs is very important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are feeling anxious, scared, stressed out and angry. Kids might feel confused and disoriented because of changes in their routine. Parents are feeling overwhelmed. Social distancing can cause people to feel lonely and disconnected. There are many resources available in Ottawa County to help individuals and families get through these tough times. Most of these services are available through telehealth or online. Telehealth means services, such as counseling or case management, are provided by phone, email or virtual meetings instead of face to face.


Individuals who feel they are in a mental health crisis and need help immediately are encouraged to call Community Mental Health of Ottawa County’s 24-hour Crisis Line at 866-512-4357 or TTY 711.

Local Data Indicate Mental Health as One of the Top Health Priorities

The Ottawa County Community Health Needs Assessments identified mental health as one of the top health priorities in the community. This is a topic of great concern related to all age demographics and has been widely discussed among leaders in all sectors, as seen in the Ottawa County Health Improvement Plans. Data have shown changes in mental health long before the COVID-19 pandemic in youth and adult populations. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated or contributed even more to poor mental health outcomes. 

“Mental Health is a critical issue and very real for children and adults in our community,” said Health Officer Lisa Stefanovsky with Ottawa County Department of Public Health. “We recognize the increased need to address mental health, especially considering the trauma society has experienced over the last year.”

Many people have expressed concerns about declining mental health associated with wearing a face mask. While research is ongoing specific to this one preventive measure, data have indicated an increase in adverse mental health associated with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole. Additional studies point to many potential contributors including isolation, fear and trauma (such as the demands put on healthcare workers and the loss of a loved one). There is also research indicating adverse health outcomes associated with COVID-19’s impact on the brain. People who were sick with COVID-19 have had a significant chance of developing a mental health issue like depression, anxiety or dementia after recovering. 


Also, mental health has impacted some populations disproportionately, such as Black and Hispanic adults who have been more likely to report the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Essential workers, healthcare workers, adults experiencing job loss, those with a past mental health diagnosis, parents (especially women) and children have shown an increasing incidence of poor mental health during the pandemic. 


Mental Health, Substance Use and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020 | MMWR (


The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use | KFF


How COVID-19 Affects the Brain I JAMA


The relationship between COVID-19 and mental health will require more research, more compassion and more action which is being recognized at all levels of government and health.

Ottawa County Death by Suicide Preliminary Report

In Ottawa County's death by suicide preliminary report, 33 deaths by suicide were reported in 2020, more than the 25 suicides that were reported in 2019. The rate of suicide in Ottawa County has been slowly increasing over the past 30 years, and became a top public health priority in 2018, when a statistical uptrend was identified. Provisional 2020 data is currently being analyzed to determine if this longer-term trend may have continued into 2020. Please keep in mind, these are raw numbers and more complete analyses need to be conducted. To consider trends over time, OCDPH will need to compare the number of deaths each year adjusted by the population to create a suicide rate accounting for population growth. Ottawa County is the fastest-growing county in Michigan, and in considering that growth, one could reasonably expect an increase in the number of suicide deaths. In Michigan, provisional data show no increase in suicides in 2020.  


Below is a graph for a historical review of youth suicides since 2010. At this point, Ottawa County has not seen an increase in the number of youth suicides, nor can a relationship to COVID-19 be determined for the three youth suicides that occurred in 2020. In Ottawa County, for each death that occurs in someone younger than 18 years of age, a comprehensive review is performed by the Child Death Review Team which consists of representatives from law enforcement, public health, child welfare, the medical examiner, hospitals, the courts and other children’s advocates. The purpose of a child death review is to identify any matters relating to death that are relevant to the welfare of children in the area or public health and safety. Additionally, it is a way to determine what actions should be taken concerning any matters identified.


Before the pandemic, in response to the rising rate of suicide in Ottawa County, community partners came together and organized the Ottawa County Suicide Prevention Coalition. The coalition’s mission is to decrease the number of suicides and the stigma associated with mental health. They've been educating the community about warning signs and prevention strategies, along with promoting existing suicide prevention and mental health resources. Additionally, the coalition has been identifying and addressing emerging issues regarding suicide and suicide prevention.  



The above table highlights the percentage of suicides among teens.


According to the 2019 Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey (YAS), 31% of kids in 8th, 10th and 12th grade reported feeling depressed, sad or hopeless. Additionally, 8% or 1 in every 13 students reported attempting suicide in 2019. For many years, community partners have worked together to ensure the availability of youth behavioral risk factor data so the critical needs of youth could be identified and addressed. Every two years the YAS has been conducted in Ottawa County school districts in grades 8, 10 and 12.


Since 2005, the Ottawa County YAS has been used to monitor health risk behaviors in Ottawa County teens. Data from this anonymous survey has been used by local agencies and schools to enact more effective programs and policies to improve the health and wellbeing of local teens. Click here to view the 2019 YAS report.

“Unlike physical health emergencies, families and caregivers often are not aware of what to do or who is available to support the family’s needs when their child or adolescent experiences an emotional and psychological distress," said Laura Buitenhuis, behavioral health consultant with Community Mental Health of Ottawa County. "We offer the Children’s Mobile Crisis which is a community-based provision. It was implemented to fill this service gap and provide a continuity of mental healthcare for children and adolescents.”

Children’s Mobile Crisis is an in-home mental health crisis intervention for youth in Ottawa County. The Mobile Crisis team is available Monday-Friday, 2-10 p.m. and can be reached by calling 616-396-4357. There are no insurance requirements – this service is available to all families residing in Ottawa County.

Mental Health Needs Increased in Teens

Nationally, the mental health crisis was evident in years prior to the pandemic, and before schools were closed and masking was required. The COVID-19 pandemic has many facets that impact mental health and has been shown to increase stress and anxiety. Teen mental health research shows an increase in mental health needs in 2020 during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • According to Fair Health as published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in March and April 2020, mental health claim lines for individuals aged 13-18, as a percentage of all medical claim lines, approximately doubled over the same months in the previous year. At the height of the spring wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, this rise in mental health claim lines amounted to 97.0 percent in March and 103.5 percent in April. LEARN MORE

  • According to a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental health–related Emergency Department visits among all pediatric Emergency Department visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health–related visits for children aged 5–11 and 12–17 years increased approximately 24% and 31%, respectively. LEARN MORE

Where to get help during a crisis

Be sure to check up on your loved ones. Don't be afraid to reach out if you or a loved one is struggling with a mental illness. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please contact:


Ottawa County Community Mental Health Crisis Line: 866-512-4357.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)



Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741-741.


Several organizations in the West Michigan area were created to provide support. They provide ongoing mental health counseling by using telehealth and/or online services.


You can find the list of support groups on Ottawa County's Community Mental Health page or visit for more information.  

Crisis Line

Mental health signs and symptoms

The global pandemic has a been a stressful, traumatic event that will remain in the history books for years to come. Coping during a pandemic has been difficult for everyone. It is crucial to understand and recognize the warning signs and symptoms of mental illnesses:

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality)
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight” or anosognosia)
  • Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
  • Intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance


How to care for your mental health

Mental health is an important aspect to our overall well-being. Mental health affects the way we think, act and feel. Maintaining a healthy mind will increase our overall quality of life. Self-care is a tool to help support your treatment and recovery from a mental illness. Self-care can also be used as a preventive measure to maintain emotional, psychological, mental and social stability. 


Self-care means taking the time to do activities that improve your health: by managing stress, increasing energy and promoting wellness. Small acts of self-care can have a big impact on mental health. Self-care can be different for everybody, so it's best to discover what works best for you. 


Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Get regular exercise
  • Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated
  • Make sleep a priority 
  • Try a relaxing activity 
  • Set goals and priorities 
  • Practice gratitude 
  • Focus on positivity
  • Stay connected

West Michigan Resources

Many local collaborative initiatives have formed over the past few years focused on mental health including

  • the be nice. campaign focused on reducing stigma around mental health issues,
  • efforts to increase funding for mental health services through the passage of the mental health millage,
  • initiatives focused on adverse childhood experiences and their impact on health and mental health outcomes,
  • efforts to  increase access to mental health services especially for those who may have difficulty due to economic challenges,
  • initiation of Senior Reach® which is a program that works with multiple community partners to identify older adults, living in Ottawa County, who may need emotional or physical support and/or connection to other community services,
  • a suicide prevention coalition has been actively working on increasing awareness with programs like the Blue Envelope and QPR training (see the Suicide Prevention Coalition Strategic Plan and Suicide Prevention Coalition website),
  • and schools and community partners have worked to ensure school mental health resources through the creation of the Community Schools Network (see the Mental Health Resources - Resources - Ottawa Community Schools Network at

Find this list on Ottawa County's Community Mental Health page.

Be Nice


The 'be nice' action plan is a four-step mental health education tool to notice, invite, challenge and empower individuals with the knowledge of resources to help them cope with a mental illness. 



  • Educate individuals of all ages to recognize the signs of mental illness and have the confidence to take action when helping themselves or others using the 'be nice' action plan and other life-saving tools.
  • Educate communities to support the mental, emotional and behavioral health of all individuals.
  • Educate individuals to reduce the shame, stigma and secrecy surrounding mental illnesses and treatment so fewer people struggle silently and more people seek help.
  • Educate individuals about the warning signs of suicide and equipping them with the tools to act when someone is in a crisis. 

"be nice. is an evidence-based, upstream mental health and suicide prevention education program from the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan," said Cat Lanting, program director. "be nice. uses an action plan to notice, invite, challenge and empower. It is a mental health education and suicide prevention action plan – with knowledge comes the confidence to take action."

LEARN MORE or contact for more information.

Question, Persuade, Refer

Mosaic Counseling is a non-profit agency that provides professional mental health counseling services those in need. They use an evidence-based proven technique called QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) to help someone in crisis or struggling with mental illnesses or challenges. Mosaic offers QPR training session to individuals within the Ottawa County area. At a QPR training session you will learn, discuss and leave understanding the signs of someone who might be living with a serious mental illness. The three steps: question, persuade, refer are steps anyone can learn to help prevent suicide. To learn more visit

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

You Are Not Alone


For 2021’s Mental Health Awareness Month NAMI will continue to amplify the message of “You Are Not Alone.” We will use this time to focus on the healing value of connecting in safe ways, prioritizing mental health and acknowledging that it’s okay to not be okay through NAMI’s blog, personal stories, videos, digital toolkits, social media engagements and national events.


Together, we can realize our shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives — a nation where no one feels alone in their struggle. Help us spread the word through awareness, support and advocacy activities. Share awareness information, images and graphics for #MHAM throughout May.


Share your story

By reading about lived experience, NAMI aims to make people feel less alone in their mental health journeys and increase awareness about mental illness.

Share your story and tell us what the message of "You Are Not Alone" means to you!


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