Suffolk Executive Bellone Announces Summit to Address Mental Health, Substance Use Disorders in Wake of COVID-19

“The unspoken truth is that the pandemic forced too many people to engage in substance abuse to cope with the isolation and stress of this pandemic," said Bellone.

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Photo by: Suffolk County

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has announced that Suffolk County will host a summit this fall to discuss mental health and substance use disorders in the wake of COVID-19. The conference, which will be presented in partnership with Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research, will cover behavioral health responses to the events and consequences of the coronavirus epidemic.
“The unspoken truth is that the pandemic forced too many people to engage in substance abuse to cope with the isolation and stress of this pandemic," said County Executive Bellone.  "This summit is designed to bring together stakeholders and professionals from across the spectrum to identify best practices and strategies to address those struggling with addiction and other mental health ailments."
“Addiction is a treatable condition, and at Wellbridge, we provide a holistic, personalized and affordable approach to caring for our patients,” said Dr. Harshal Kirane, Medical Director at Wellbridge. “The fall summit convened by County Executive Steve Bellone will be a major step toward educating the public that those suffering from addiction can recover and improve their lives.  No one should have to face addiction treatment alone.” 
The Fall Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Summit will bring together leaders from the fields of mental health and substance use disorder to guide discussions on currently available resources and a future vision. The goal is to increase the use of science-driven approaches to treatment, and supporting essential healthcare workers with suggestions for not only surviving but also thriving in a complicated time.
The summit will be offered as an open invitation, with a save-the-date announcement to follow in the coming weeks. The fall conference follows the County Executive’s 2019 “Stories From Suffolk” forum. The form was a policy conversation among leading experts in the field on substance use and opioids to assess the next steps that should be taken to combat the opioid epidemic. The first of its kind forum convened over 300 attendees from across New York State, including medical providers, academic scholars, community advocates, faith leaders, state officials, local law enforcement and criminal justice advocates.
“Our residents in Suffolk County have had to demonstrate tremendous resilience in order to get through the dark days of this devastating crisis,” said Dr. Gregson Pigott, Commissioner of Health Services. “What we need now is to support people in attaining healthy coping strategies that are needed to sustain long-term wellness and recovery.”
“It’s a brain thing; science confirms so,” said Cari Besserman, Director of the Department of Health Services Division of Community Mental health. “We need to destigmatize substance use disorder and educate healthcare practitioners as well as the public about recent advances in evidence-based treatment and how to access help.”
In a recent report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), researchers found the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder increased from 36.4-41.5%, while the percentage of individuals reporting unmet mental health care needs increased from 9.2-11.7% between August 2020 and February 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts have also highlighted increases in sleeping problems and alcohol and other substance misuse.
For those who had been coping with substance use or mental health disorders before the pandemic, this past year has been especially challenging. Beyond loss of family members and friends to COVID-19, we also saw loss of businesses and jobs, disruptions to education, extra-curricular activities, general socialization and “normal routines. Feelings of anxiety, depression, loss, impatience and anger are prevalent. For some residents, these feelings may have been brought on by the events surrounding the pandemic, while others who have existing mental or substance use challenges, symptoms may have gotten worse.
According to the National Institutes of Health, 10 percent of US adults will have drug use disorder at some point in their lives. A survey of American adults revealed that drug use disorder is common, co-occurs with a range of mental health disorders and often goes untreated. Approximately 20 percent of Americans, or about one in five people over the age of 18, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Mental health problems also affect one in every five young people at any given time.
The Suffolk County Division of Community Mental Hygiene hosts robust open subcommittee meetings focusing on Mental Health, Substance Use Disorder and Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities. These subcommittees have active workgroups addressing access to and coordination of prevention, treatment, and recovery services. More recently, the focus has largely been on access to meaningful treatment and support services in light of COVID-19.  For more information call 311.