In a year rocked by lockdowns, tragedies and divisiveness, Mental Health America of Dutchess County has seen it all.
A local chapter of the nationwide nonprofit Mental Health America, the organization provides over 35 different services for individuals and families in need, according to its most recent annual report. CEO Andrew O’Grady estimates that around 95 percent of those who receive services through the organization come from low-income backgrounds.
O’Grady shared the impact these turbulent times have had on the clients they serve.
“We are getting a lot more calls from our current clients that they’re afraid to go outside,” he said.
Having worked in the field for 29 years, O’Grady is proud to be in a position where he can help increase access to therapeutic services for clients who don’t have to step outside to express themselves.
“There’s so many things that need to change, and improve in the mental health system,” he said. “It’s not easy, people call me all the time. In fact, they’re calling me more now; all of a sudden their daughter or their son or their aunt or their mother is in need of care and they don’t know how to access it.”
Like many mental health providers across New York state, Mental Health America (MHA) is offering most of its services via Telehealth, which has been mostly a net positive for the organization.
“The access to the care is maybe a little bit better because of the Telehealth option,” he said. “There’s definitely a lower level of no show appointments.”
Still, O’Grady is concerned about the long-term impact too much technology will have on youth, especially as they spend most of their days on screen with remote learning and Zoom conferencing with their friends.
“I think we’re losing a little bit of our ability for socialization,” he said. “We have been little by little. It increases anxiety levels, when people are constantly looking at their phone.”
He has also noticed how the political climate has affected clients in the last year, who have either let the tension affect their mental state or who have used their anger to participate in racial justice protests in the City of Poughkeepsie.
“There are ways for people to express what they are, but wherever you go in public, whether it’s the mask or whether it’s [wearing] a BLM shirt, or whatever it is, everything seems to be so polarized that you’re bound to run into somebody that looks at you funny, or says something to you, or potentially causes you to get into some type of altercation,” he said. “And that’s scary.”
O’Grady hopes that the climate can change for the betterment of both MHA’s clients and the rest of the country.
“We have a whole bunch of other words that people realize are insensitive and hurtful and, maybe their eyes [will be] more wide open and more accepting of people that are different from them,” he said. “I hope that over the next four to eight years that that happens.”