CBS 58 Investigates: Local mental health care struggles to keep up with demand

CBS 58 Investigates: Local mental health care struggles to keep up with demand

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed thousands of lives, but not just from the virus. People in dire need of mental health care are being told they have to wait.

We first introduced you to Marissa Baylerian in November of 2020. She spoke with us to encourage people to seek help, to help stop the stigma around mental health care. “When I first did the interview with you I felt like I was doing okay,” she said.

But little did she know back then, the pandemic would prove to be too tough for her to handle alone. “It started just bubbling up and I just got to a point where I had suicidal thoughts again,” Baylerian said.

With her therapist unable to add appointments, Baylerian sought more help, but she was told she’d have to be placed on a waiting list. “I waited about a month or so until I could finally get into the program,” she said.

Morgan Aghijan, lead therapist for Rogers Behavioral Health, says that Baylerian’s story is common because right now the mental health care system is overwhelmed. “The messaging we’re hearing is hey call us back in two to three months or call us back in nine months,” Aghijan said, “I don’t think anybody enjoys sending that message for somebody who is calling to get that help.”

In extreme cases, Aghijan says people who can’t make appointments for other programs are checking themselves into mental hospitals. “People just feel that desperation so much that it feels like they’re the only option to be able to see somebody,” she said.

Dr. Kelly Duggan is one of many psychologists in private practice who are trying to open up their schedules to keep up with demand. “I think the other thing that we’re seeing too, related to COVID, is the burnout among health care professionals, including psychologists,” she said.

The scope of the need for mental health care is striking. The most recent CDC survey taken during the pandemic estimates that nearly 41-percent of people report at least one mental health condition, and more than one-in-ten seriously considered suicide.

“We’re seeing an increase in suicides, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, overdose deaths,” Duggan said.

Marissa Baylerian found the help she needed, but what should you do if you need help, and it isn’t available right away? There are no easy answers, but don’t give up trying to find a professional, lean on your existing support system and practice self-care. “I know self-care can come off as a cliché, but really doing whatever you can to boost your mood,” Aghijan said.

If there is a small silver lining in this crisis, it’s that seeing a therapist is becoming more common. Baylerian says the stigma around mental health could finally go away. “I think that people are starting to realize the importance of what their struggle is and then getting help,” she said.

If something isn’t right with you, the time to start to seek help is now, don’t wait.

The Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-TALK.

The local helpline for NAMI of Southeast WI is 414-257-7222.

Rogers Behavioral Health can be reached at 800-767-4411.

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