Responding to COVID-19: Mental Health Counseling Services

Danielle C. Capelle

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many New Hampshire residents facing more emotional challenges and pain, whether it’s increased feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation or difficulties adjusting to life’s “new norm.” Our Mental Health Counseling program has responded by conducting nearly 2,000 counseling sessions for those struggling since the crisis began – and will continue to be there for those in need.

To learn how the program has adapted in ways like never before – and a look at what’s ahead – we spoke with Danielle Capelle, one of the program’s licensed clinical mental health counselors.

How would you characterize your program over the past year?

This has been a period of challenges and changes like we’ve never seen before, but also one where we’ve been able to build on our commitment to provide healing for New Hampshire residents.

In March, with in-person sessions not viable due to the pandemic, we overhauled the way we work – and how clients interact with us – from how we’ve been doing it for the past six decades. Over the course of a few days, we shifted our in-person counseling to a virtual telehealth model. This required us to learn new technologies, new regulations, new insurance billing practices and adapt in new ways.

But it’s also created a lot of new opportunities. With our traditional in-person model, clients usually came from areas surrounding our 11 service locations across the state. Telehealth services now enable us to serve any New Hampshire resident and reach underserved communities we haven’t been able to before. This means someone in Pittsburg, for example, can receive support from one of our counselors on the other side of the state in Nashua. It’s really opened the doors for us to have a positive impact on many more residents statewide.

How are the struggles that your clients face different right now vs. this time last year?

While we continue to see challenges shaped around anxiety, stress, depression and sudden life changes, these feelings are much greater given the pandemic and the resulting chaos in our lives. More clients are also dealing with job loss, increasing financial issues or difficulties coping with the uncertainty tomorrow may bring.

We’re also working with more parents of school-aged children because of the shifting dynamics of schools. Many parents are (understandably so) struggling to balance everything – work, parent, teach, or leaving their jobs to stay at home. And as the school year continues – with moves between remote learning, hybrid learning and in-school learning – it likely won’t get easier for them.

We’re also seeing an increase in seniors seeking assistance. They are the population that’s most physically impacted by COVID, and because of that, they’ve had to make pretty significant sacrifices to things like seeing family members, going to the store or attending weekly Mass. They are feeling more alone and more isolated, with no idea when this will let up. It’s really taking a toll on their emotional health.

As we move into the new year, what worries you most about the next few months? Where do you see the most significant needs among your clients?

We normally see a higher volume of clients in the winter months, as the holiday stress, flu season, and shorter and colder days take shape. Adding COVID into the mix this year will likely intensify these seasonal challenges. This is usually a very stressful time of year, especially now, and it can be tough to lose sight of positive coping skills, leaving many individuals vulnerable.

Why is donor support (which funds programs like yours) even more critical this year?

Donor support enables our staff to help even more clients cope with challenging life situations, heal from emotional pain and take back control of their lives.

No matter who you are, this has been a hard year for everyone at some level. Most people are able to take things in stride day-by-day and have done a great job adjusting to the changing world around us. For others – especially those who deal with ongoing anxiety, stress, substance use, life adjustment issues and other mental health conditions – this year is likely the most difficult they’ve ever experienced.

Many of these individuals have fallen on hard times and normally would have trouble affording the mental health services they require. Because of donor support, we’re one of the few agencies in the state offering sliding scale counseling services. Without this support, these individuals might not have anywhere else to turn.

(To end on a positive note!), are there any particular moments/client interactions that you are most proud of over the past year?

We’re most proud of the resiliency of our clients during this time. Moving to teletherapy was quite the change for both our staff and clients, requiring a good deal of adjustment and acclimation. But our clients have been open and engaged with us in such a positive way. It’s yet another reason we’re so blessed to be able to be a guiding hand for so many people.

To learn more about our Mental Health Counseling Services program, click here.

To help support the program and extend its reach to more New Hampshire residents in need, click here.