CAIRO — Members of a coalition dedicated to preventing suicide in Grady County met Friday to discuss methods of reaching out to people in the community who may be struggling with depression.

Group leader Dustin Infinger said Friday’s virtual discussion was more of a brainstorming session than a formal coalition meeting, and the chief goal was to agree on a method of disseminating crucial information on mental health resources in the community to anyone struggling to cope with the stresses brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Mental health resources do exist in Grady County, Infinger said, but letting people know how to access those resources is the real challenge — a task which has been made more difficult with the current pandemic. Reaching out to people through social media is one way of spreading important information, but Infinger said it likely wouldn’t reach everyone in need.

“Are we preaching to the choir or are we actually reaching the individuals in the community that need this?” he asked the coalition.

Significant changes in social interaction due to the coronavirus are having effects on mental health, Infinger said. Making matters more difficult is that unlike other challenges, such as alcoholism or other reckless behaviors, depression and thoughts of suicide may not be visible to others.

Infinger said the Moultrie area has seen a noticeable spike in suicides, and Kendra Butler, mobile crisis team therapist with the Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL), said more people have been referred to emergency care services due to an imminent danger of self harm in the past month than in the previous three months combined.

GCAL is still operating “business as usual” with roughly the same number of calls as during normal times, Butler said, but there have been some noticeable changes.

“I think the calls we’re getting are more serious,” said Mike Thornton, also a mobile crisis team therapist with GCAL. “We’re not getting as many ‘I need somebody to talk to’ calls as we did in the past.”

The current pandemic has brought about many other mental health challenges that can wind up being key contributors to thoughts of self-harm, Infinger said. Day drinking is an easy way for many to pass the time in their homes, and anxieties over job security and personal health are “through the roof.”

“It’s a spooky time,” Infinger said.

Other concerns such as the safety of children in abusive households was addressed in the meeting. Child abuse referrals have dropped dramatically, Butler said, and that isn’t a good thing. Referrals typically see a dip in the summer when kids are separated from their teachers, who are state-mandated reporters of suspected abuse, and students in Grady County haven’t been inside classrooms since mid-March.

“We’re already in the summer for all intents and purposes,” Butler said. “We have been for a month.”

One idea that gained traction among the coalition members present was to distribute information on resources through local organizations with an existing footprint in area, including the Grady County Ministerial Association, the Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce, the Grady County Sheriff’s Office and the Cairo Police Department.

A “universal” flier with information on resources covering as many potential issues as possible could be disseminated through a partnership with the Grady County school system, which has been distributing thousands of meals each week to students and families. Information on the flyers would not only include suicide prevention resources, but also delivery services for prescription medications and hot lines to report domestic violence and child abuse.

Infinger said the idea is just one way STEP Up can help people navigate through an unprecedented crisis.

“This is all new and we’re trying to figure it out,” he said. “It seems like the best thing we could do right now is try to get information people don’t have to the people who are having a hard time getting it. That’s what we do as a coalition.”

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