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COVID-19 pandemic prompts rise in mental health issues cited among people of color in Will County

The state of mental health among people of color in Will County has grown a bit strained in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So much so that the Will County Health Department is seeing an uptick in requests for assistance from Will County residents directed its way from the state of Illinois.

“We are part of the governor’s Call 4 Com, a text service,” said Joe Troiani, the health department’s director of behavioral health programs. “We’ve had 63 residents of Will County over the last few months—that were not previously engaged in mental health services—calling and asking for help because of some of the psychological consequences of COVID-19.”

Some issues commonly reported are anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness.

Troiani said the state of mental health among people of color in Will County has become a microcosm of the nation. He said communities of color are “disproportionally” experiencing larger numbers of cases and deaths.

Among some of the reasons why the mental health of people of color is impacted by the pandemic boils down to inequity in health care and the lack of availability of health care.

Troiani described the health care system, saying it is inadequate in its ability to help people who need it.

“Particularly hard hit are families that have no health insurance,” he said. “Even with Medicaid, they have limited options because not all physicians take Medicaid.”

Years ago, the Will County Health Department established its first community health center as a federally qualified healthcare center.

“If you go back 10-15 years ago, Will County was as virtual desert for health care for those individuals that had no insurance or health care coverage,” Troiani said. “Even those with Medicaid, the availability was sparce.”

Since then, the health department has expanded the number of community health centers to three with locations in Joliet, Bolingbrook and Monee.

Troiani said the facilities have grown to be helpful to people who live in Will County.

Patients at the Will County Health Department are seen remotely for mental health services amid the pandemic.

Troiani said it’s clear that mental health issues have grown among some groups of people because of the pandemic.

“We’ve actually seen a 7% increase in services provided during COVID-19 strictly with the people with serve,” Troiani said.

About one-third of those served by mental health services at the Will County Health Department are people from communities of color, officials said.

The health department employs a number of therapists who are bilingual or bi-cultural, which Troiani said helps in providing service to anyone whose primary language is not English.

“If there’s a language barrier, that makes a big difference,” he said.

The Will County Health Department encourages anyone who is not feeling or doing well to seek help.

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