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Grant funding will help healthcare workers access mental health services

The Mississippi Department of Mental Health launched a new mental health awareness campaign focused on first responders and has distributed grant funding to 15 mental health providers, including Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources.

Pine Belt Mental Healthcare Resources provides services in Pearl River County.

The “Behind the Mask” campaign is meant to encourage people to seek mental health help instead of hiding “behind the mask.” The campaign is trying to help Mississippians understand that the pandemic has impacted all kinds of people and mental health issues are common, according to a press release from DMH.

The Mississippi Emergency Response to COVID-19 (MERC-19) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has been distributed to 15 mental health providers throughout the state. The funds are meant to support expanding mental telehealth services and support mental health and alcohol and drug treatment services to healthcare professionals, crisis hotline workers and first responders.

Providers are required to use the grant funding to meet the immediate mental health needs of healthcare workers and frontline staff like first responders and crisis helpline staff who have experienced trauma due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said DMH spokesperson Kelly Shannon.

As defined by the grant, first responders can include healthcare practitioners, clinicians, long term care workers, paramedics, police officers or firefighters.

The funding will also help build infrastructure for teleheatlh that should help people access mental health services for years to come, said Shannon.

A screening process will be used to determine who qualifies for the MERC-19 grant funds, and people have already begun to enroll in the program, said Pine Belt Mental Health Public Relations Manager Joanne Marsh. Pine Belt’s grant funds can be used for adults or children to access individual, family or group counseling services, medical services and day treatment programs.

The funds can also be used to help people who are indigent.

Marsh said the grant funding may be able to help people who don’t necessarily have a serious mental illness diagnosis, but due to COVID-19 are experiencing mental health issues, or their existing mental health issues have been exacerbated by the trauma they’ve experienced during the pandemic.

DMH has launched a new website to go with the campaign:behindthemaskms.com which offers mental health screening tests, information on crisis lines and recommendations for managing mental health.