Silver Oaks CEO: Pandemic Challenges May Lead To Greater Acceptance of Mental Health Issues
Despite all the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic during the past year, Scott Hullinger, Chief Executive Officer of Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital in New Lenox, believes the flexibility and resiliency shown during the crisis, both of providers and their clients, could lead to long-term successes.
“This past year has been unprecedented in so many ways,” said Hullinger, a licensed clinical social worker with extensive experience in the inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services field. “None of us has been through a pandemic before. It was critical that we adapt and find new ways of helping people. And we did.”
Following safety guidelines from the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Silver Oaks continued providing assessments and treatment during the pandemic, he said.
Additionally, Hullinger said even technologically challenged people like himself became “avid ‘Zoomers,’ ” and providers adapted to offer one-on-one telehealth sessions, and even group sessions via Zoom.
“Keeping those lines of communication open are critical,” he said. “We encourage our clients not to isolate. And what happens? A quarantine. We had to get creative. People were scared.”
The stress of the quarantine – the loss of jobs and income while having to help their children with schoolwork – not only added stress for those already suffering, Hullinger said, but brought in a new group of people who may not have fully understood anxiety and depression before.
But even if they didn’t, he said, chances are pretty good they know someone who suffers from mental health issues.
“One in five adults in the nation experiences some form of mental illness each year,” Hullinger said. “The problem is, less than half seek treatment. The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35 percent since 1999, and suicide is now the second leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.
“A big problem is the stigma associated with mental illness. It has gotten better over the years, but it’s still there. We have to let people know what they are feeling likely is common and is treatable by mental health professionals.”
Education is the key to easing the stigma, he said. At one time, mental illness was only whispered about, while now people are open and readily seeking treatment.
The other problem with helping those in need is a lack of mental health providers. Citing statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, he said 55 percent of U.S. counties do not have a single practicing psychiatrist.
And while that number is improving, Hullinger said it could take any years for the number of providers to catch up with the need.
“We have to find a way to let people know there are all kinds of jobs in the mental health field,” he said. “Not all are at hospitals. Some are in schools, in mobile units and clinics.”
Hullinger hopes those who may have experienced anxiety, depression and other mental health issues during the pandemic will be more likely to reach out for help, and maybe encourage others to do the same.
And we may not fully understand the effects of the pandemic stressors for years, he added.
“As things continue to open up, I don’t expect people to be OK immediately. I believe it will be a long process. But it’s a step in the right direction.”
For a free mental health assessment, call Silver Oaks at (844) 580-5000 or walk-in anytime.
Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital is located on the campus of Silver Cross Hospital at 1004 Pawlak Parkway, New Lenox.