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Ohio Shelters Use Telehealth to Help Domestic Abuse Survivors Access Care

Funded by a SAMSHA grant, shelters in Toledo are launching a telehealth program aimed at offering telemental health services to those at risk of suicide, especially survivors of domestic abuse.

Published Friday, October 23, 2020
by Eric Wicklund

Telemental health

An Ohio behavioral health clinic is using a federal grant of almost $2 million to expand telehealth services for domestic violence victims in need of counseling.

The Toledo-based Zepf Center is using the $1.8 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) to create a connected health platform aimed at preventing suicide among adults 25 years old and older who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The program will focus on helping victims of domestic violence who have been struggling to access help because of the COVID-19 emergency.

Experts say the rate of domestic violence reports in the US has fallen during the pandemic, while it’s soaring in many other countries. That leads them to believe victims aren’t reporting assaults because they’re stuck at home with their abusers.

At the same time, stress, depression and suicide attempts are all rising during the pandemic, and domestic violence victims are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide.

The new program aims to give shelter residents an in-house platform to access telemental health services – and, by virtue of publicity, spread the word that these services are available. It also takes advantage of emergency measures launched by federal and state governments to expand insurance coverage of telemental health services.

“Telehealth allows individuals and their families access to confidential treatment without leaving the safety of the shelter,” Zepf Center CEO Deb Flores said in a press release. “Changes in the way behavioral healthcare is delivered during this pandemic will have a huge impact on the individuals cared for in these centers.”

The new program will be run in a partnership with the YMCA and Bethany House, a domestic violence shelter in Toledo.

“The dynamics of domestic violence create crushing isolation,” Deidre Lashley, the shelter’s executive director, said in the release. “Victims often are unable to care for their physical and/or mental health until they escape the abuser. In addition, engaging in services can be very intimidating for folks.”

“In an effort to provide and care for their children and families, caregiver often neglect themselves,” added Shelly Ulrich, the YMCA’s associate director. “The added stress of being in an abusive relationship only underscores this neglect. By the time they realize it, things have deteriorated to the point that feelings of hopelessness and despair have set in, leaving survivors contemplating suicide or other harmful behaviors. The sooner we address the overall wellness of the survivor, the more likely they are to becoming a thriving survivor.”

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