Mental Health Workers In Morris Face Uneasy Times, More Cases

PARSIPPANY, NJ—A sharp increase in demand coming out of last spring’s shutdown and funding concerns,…

Mental Health Workers In Morris Face Uneasy Times, More Cases

PARSIPPANY, NJ—A sharp increase in demand coming out of last spring’s shutdown and funding concerns, a worry even in good economic times, are taking a toll on some of the mental health field’s organizations and workers.

“My anxiety level has definitely gone up,” said Maria Vinci-Savettiere, Executive Director at Deirdre’s House, a child advocacy group in Morristown, “because there are children out there suffering in silence and we don’t know that the numbers are and the degree of abuse is, and that keeps me up at night.”

Vinci-Savettiere said the isolation triggered by the quarantine has resulted in “horrific” cases of abuse. She said other variables, such as the economy, also factor into abuse cases.

“The economic pressure can cause people to take in borders,” she said, “people who they don’t know are are living in the house.”

Jessica Large, coordinator of out patient services at the Center for Evaluation and Counseling in Parsippany, agreed with Vinci-Savattiere’s assessment. The CEC conducts forensic assessments as well as provides therapy and visitation services for the state’s family services division.

“We have definitely seen an increase in referrals for the outpatients side of our agency,” Large said. “Meaning people experiencing general anxiety about the pandemic and being isolated.”

Large, who has been at CEC for a decade, said the professional uncertainty is a source of anxiety for her, as well.

“We’re concerned that we’re not seeing all the maybe the children and families that we normally would see,” Large said. “Because a lot of these children are not being seen at school by teachers and peers, which again leads to the question of who’s helping these children?”

Large added that funding shortfalls combined with increased expenses have stressed nonprofits like CEC even more. She remains concerned about potential funding cuts that my be coming.

“We know there have been a lot of cuts, and our concern is that it could happen to us,” Large said. “We have already been operating at a place where we have not had a cost of living increase in our state contract in over 13 years. It’s a huge stressor.”

Gov. Murphy’s initial budget proposal for the 2021 fiscal year initially designated 90 School-Based Youth Services Programs (SBYSP) in New Jersey for elimination. The program funds mental health, employment, and substance abuse counseling, suicide prevention, pregnancy prevention and sexual assault prevention throughout the state.

But the budget released last week reversed course, leaving the program funded following protests by parents, educators, mental health providers, and even some former students. But nonprofits like Deirdre’s House and CEC depend on multiple sources of funding, not just government money, and Vinci-Savettiere said the worry isn’t new, just increased.

“In this profession, you always worry about funding,” she said, “it’s just much worse now because of the nature of this pandemic. People were stuck inside with abusers and the economy sinking.”

Helen Le Frois, Vice President of Development for JBWS, an anti-domestic abuse organization, said she has to raise a large sum of money every year to cover the shelter, mental health, and other services JBWS provides.

“I have to raise $5 million per year to keep operations going,” said Le Frois, who added that the JBWS shelter, which remained open throughout the pandemic, is currently full. “The governor’s mandate to stay home and stay safe worked great for covid, but not great for victims of domestic violence who were with their abusers 24/7.”

Le Frois added that fundraising is down drastically this year for JBWS because local fundraising activities, such as motorcycle runs and tricky trays, have been nonexistent.

Large added that the coronavirus has also brought extra expenses to CEC that no one anticipated coming into the year. New PPE, laptops and other electronic equipment, as well as telehealth subscriptions, have eaten up a lot of the budget.

Still, Large said, she has seen her staff come together and even found a few positives that have come from the challenging situation the pandemic has caused.

“It’s helped us be more creative in how we reach our clients,” said Large, “because it’s easier to reach somebody in telehealth sessions, especially if they’re having a child care issue or some other problem.”

Large added that the pandemic forced CEC to figure out better ways to serve clients. She also credited the staff at CEC for transitioning to virtual work last spring.

Vinci-Savettiere said she has had similar feelings, and the fear of funding cuts or the pandemic’s consequences only make her determined to do her job.

“It makes me more motivated to reach out to the community,” said Vinci-Savettiere, “because there are kids out there that need help, desperately.”

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This article originally appeared on the Parsippany Patch