NM: Watch out for mental health, not just virus

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In this file photo from August, Human Services Secretary David Scrase takes part in a weekly update on the COVID-19 health emergency in New Mexico from the Capitol in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s top health officials want residents to take care of their mental health – not just watch for a fever – as the coronavirus pandemic lingers into the fall.

Neal Bowen, a psychologist and director of the state Behavioral Health Services Division, said anxiety, depression and other psychological distress are climbing across the country as a result of COVID-19 – a particular risk in New Mexico, a state that already has high rates of substance abuse and suicide deaths.

In an online briefing Tuesday, he encouraged New Mexicans to seek help if they notice troubling changes in their anxiety levels or experience other symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping or headaches.

“Holding on and waiting to see if it gets better is not a good idea,” Bowen said.

A good place to start, he said, is the New Mexico crisis and care line at 1-855-NMCRISIS, or 662-7474. People can call any time about a behavioral health concern, even if they’re not in crisis.

New Mexico, Bowen said, is preparing for a surge in behavioral health needs starting this fall as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state is pursuing a mix of short- and long-term strategies to boost its capacity to provide behavioral health services – including expanding the use of telehealth visits, a setting that seems to work particularly well for mental health care, he said.

The push to address behavioral health services comes as New Mexico confronts a jump in new coronavirus cases.

The state reported 178 new coronavirus cases and two more deaths Tuesday as infections continued to climb.

The share of tests that come back positive is also increasing – to about 3%, about a percentage point higher than it was three weeks ago.

In Tuesday’s briefing, Human Services Secretary David Scrase encouraged New Mexicans to stay home more often, avoid large gatherings and be sure to wear a mask in public settings.

The state is on track to blow past its goal of averaging just 168 or fewer new cases a day. Passing the threshold, Scrase said, would put a halt to any further relaxation of the public health order “until we get this under control.”

The deaths reported Tuesday were men from Eddy County – one in his 30s and one in his 80s, both with underlying medical conditions. The statewide coronavirus death toll now stands at 875.

Bernalillo County led the state with 48 new infections Tuesday.

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