Mental health, domestic violence calls double in Cass County due to COVID-19

CASSOPOLIS — COVID-19 has affected many aspects of life for Michiganders since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order was passed. Now, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office says it has affected the types of emergency calls it has been receiving.

Sheriff Richard Behnke reported that though there were fewer traffic crashes, traffic violations and drunk driving incidents in April 2020 vs. April 2019, mental health and domestic violence calls have doubled.

“The quantity of the calls we are receiving is about the same, but the things we are responding to are different than they have been in the past,” Behnke said.

In April, the sheriff’s office received 11 mental health calls pertaining to attempted or threatened suicide, up from five calls in April 2019. None of the calls resulted in completed suicide. Behnke also reported an increase in domestic violence calls, receiving 49 last month. In April 2019, the 911 call center received 21 domestic violence calls. Behnke said not all domestic violence reports involved physical altercations; some were verbal or escalating incidents.

Burglaries also increased from April 2019, jumping from 12 calls to 22. Reports of suspicious activities also increased from just more than 100 in 2019 to 180 in 2020, while requests for welfare checks rose from 24 to 42.

Behnke attributed the changes in call types and the increase in mental health and domestic violence calls to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This was expected,” Behnke said. “We were told by our mental health experts to expect increases in these types of calls during times of isolation.”

At Woodlands Behavioral Health Network in Cassopolis, Cass County’s Mental Health Authority, staff said they had not seen a significant increase in calls for mental health treatment or support since the pandemic hit. However, clinical director David Gamble said he understands the impact COVID-19 has made on mental health.

“Isolation can definitely impact mental health issues,” he said. “Human touch at a very basic level and communication can affect someone’s mental health. Isolation can exacerbate depression or other issues a consumer is experiencing.”

In addition to isolation, Gamble said the stress of extreme change and concerns about oneself or loved ones falling ill, and stress caused by the loss of work and financial insecurity can also cause anxiety or exacerbate existing mental health conditions.

“You have to redefine how you operate in this world,” Gamble said. “When you take a person who might be struggling with their mental health on a day to day basis, and you wrap it up in all these new concerns, you can see how that would impact mental health.”

Since the pandemic hit, Gamble said the team at Woodlands has been collecting resources to assist in connecting those who call with the support they need, both mental health-related and otherwise. Woodlands’ dedicated helpline is (269) 445-2451.

Gamble said he would encourage anyone who is experiencing mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic to contact Woodlands for help.

“We are here. We can help,” he said. “Their call would be directed to a clinician who would provide help and support and point them to the resources if needed to help them through their particular situation.”

Sheriff Behnke also encouraged residents to reach out to check in on their friends and family at this time, especially if they have concerns about their safety and wellbeing.

“It is a challenge right now because, sometimes, you cannot physically be there,” he said. “But the best advice I have is to spend extra time with your friends and family. A phone call or FaceTime is always good and can make a difference.”