‘We’re in a crisis’: Pandemic puts new strain on mental health services in Hawaii

Published: Oct. 17, 2021 at 9:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The pandemic has driven up demand for behavioral health services, but a lack of resources is making matters worse, experts and families say.

Eileen Lau-James cares for her husband, Clayton, who suffers from severe mental illness. His most recent psychotic episode was last week during a family outing.

“We were camping on North Shore, and he was scary, he was yelling,” said Lau-James.

She said she successfully petitioned to have her husband admitted to a hospital, but they encountered an issue. “He was taken into Queen’s Medical Center’s ER,” said Lau-James.

“There were not enough inpatient psychiatric beds, there was not an open bed on island.”

Lau-James said they had to wait in the emergency room for two days until a bed opened up.

A spokesperson for the Queen’s Health System says they have 33 adult beds for psychiatric care and added that it has been very busy.

“Since the pandemic hit, it’s even harder to get hospitalization for your mentally ill family members that are a threat to your family to themselves and to society,” said Lau James.

Lau-James is on the Hawaii State Council for Mental Health.

She continues to advocate for the prioritization of resources towards mental health care.

“When your loved one gets sick, you need to drop everyone to make sure you can handle and take care of everything that that needs to be taken care of and so it’s a huge burden,” said Lau-James. “It starts with lack of mental health care, COVID-19 has made it worse, increases the episodes.”

Richard Ries, a psychologist, works with individuals suffering from trauma and suicidal thoughts.

He agrees with Lau-James.

“There should be more psychotherapy happening something that helps someone feel like a human being is there to meet them in a time of despair,” said Ries.

Ries says prioritizing mental health care would benefit the whole society.

“We will have a lot less crime, a lot less violence, a lot substance abuse and a lot less neglect of children,” said Ries.

Added Lau-James: “It has this exponential ballooning effect where everyone is starting to see it. It’s becoming very obvious we’re in a crisis.”

If you need help, call the Hawaii Cares Line at 808-832-3100.

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