Raising awareness about the importance of mental health in the time of COVID

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Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center. (Photo courtesy GBHWC)

The stigma of mental illness has barred people from seeking mental care and as the island commemorates Mental Health & Wellness Month, service providers on Guam are raising awareness on this issue, which has been exacerbated by the challenges of the pandemic.

The Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center and the Governor’s Office, during the proclamation signing on Monday, announced that the theme for this month is “Seeing Through Stigma.”

The mental health stigma is further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic which brought new realities and challenges to the community. And the numbers reported by the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center reveal how these have impacted the community.

Between March 2020 and April 2021, the center experienced an alarming increase of crisis calls that went from an average of 25 calls per month pre-pandemic, reaching almost 800 calls at one point.

The center is also now seeing a steady average of over 500 calls per month.

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During the proclamation signing, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero spoke about these challenges that the restrictions enforced to address the pandemic that also took their toll on the community.

“The very actions that we took to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect our island, like staying at home and limiting our interactions with those outside our household, also meant we no longer have access to the activities that help us cope with stress as well as our support system and instability,” Leon Guerrero said.

This year’s theme emphasized the continued efforts to promote positive mental health attitudes and encourages the island community to take up an active role in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health challenges.

Lt. Governor Josh Tenorio mentioned some initiatives addressing mental health issues from the expanding of programs for those in prison to the construction of a new facility.

“The expansion of substance abuse programs is a big priority of ours. Over the last few months, we have been working tirelessly identifying new avenues and facilities. Among those are expanding capacity for men’s treatment up at DYA’s cottage home in Talofofo where we expect to issue an RFP for repairs by the end of this month. The Governor mentioned the construction —- through federal funds that she has identified — to build a drug and alcohol building that will provide additional treatment and a headquarters of what we hope to be some innovative and expansive work in dealing with Guam’s long-standing addiction issues,” Tenorio said.

At the signing, it was also emphasized that throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, the center never closed but instead expanded its 24-hour crisis services.

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