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The coronavirus pandemic is taking a dire toll. We see it in the daily numbers tracking new infections and lives lost. But there is a less visible toll those numbers don’t reflect.

The Bozeman Help Center crisis hotline has reported a sharp increase in calls as the pandemic has unfolded locally. Initially the calls focused more on physical necessities of housing and food from those who had lost their jobs due to the statewide lockdown. But in April those calls were more seeking help with mental health issues.

And that’s not surprising.

Montanans lived under a statewide lockdown for more than seven weeks. That has led to feelings of isolation, depression and increased domestic tensions. And we aren’t out of the woods yet by a long shot.

As we emerge gradually from the lockdown, many are wisely choosing to continue minimizing their contacts outside the home. While that is the best way to avoid contracting the virus, it comes with a high price to our mental wellbeing. Even during normal times, Montana has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. But in the self-imposed isolation aimed at impeding the spread of the virus, suicidal tendencies have increased.

We should always try to be aware of those around us struggling with depression and reach out to them. And we should also strive to be aware of our own tendencies and not be afraid to reach out for help when we need it. We should also be on the lookout for signs of domestic stress and step in when necessary to avert violence.

The Help Center – which can be reached by dialing 2-1-1 – is working with other local mental health providers to meet the increased demand stemming from the pandemic. Those include Bozeman Health and Western Montana Mental Health Center. Together these organizations have instituted the Behavioral Urgent Care Center to which callers to the Help Center are referred if more services are needed.

Coincidentally, May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the Bozeman City Commission has issued a proclamation on the importance of mental health education, awareness and services. That should serve as an additional reminder of the importance of monitoring mental wellbeing – in ourselves and in others – during these trying times.

We have all made tremendous sacrifices to minimize the illness and death as the pandemic has spread. Let’s not let those efforts go to waste by ignoring the potential for mental stress and its consequences.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

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