TAHLEQUAH -- During this uncertain time that the COVID-19 pandemic has created worldwide, another health crisis is waiting to emerge. With daily news of deaths, isolation and living in fear of contracting the virus, many people are suffering from mental health-related issues such as depression, substance abuse and suicide ideation. And Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health has implemented necessary changes to provide for current and future clients.

"Research shows we need to pay special attention to mental health considerations in times of crisis such as now," Ashley Lincoln, Behavioral Health administrative operations manager, said. "Adults and children are left to cope with feelings without easy access to care. Also, health care providers are experiencing grief, anxiety and depression due to COVID-19 related stress. Many of us are in isolation or practicing social distancing without access to stress-reducing activities such as going to the gym or socializing with our�support systems."

Statewide coronavirus restrictions have also prevented mental health agencies ability to provide in-person appointments. Providers are using alternative ways to properly care for clients, including telehealth, which allows patients access to care without going to health centers.

Lincoln said CN has been using telehealth technology primarily for psychiatry since 2015 and the implementation of telehealth on a broader scale has been a smooth process. She added that the department has actually seen a decrease in missed appointments among families.

"These virtual appointments offer families�who may have barriers keeping them from accessing services such as transportation,�the opportunity to complete sessions in the comfort of their own home," she said. "Our Behavioral Health team has also�begun�facilitating�group�sessions�via telehealth. Our goal throughout this time has been to seamlessly transition our operations�without�disrupting�care for the families we serve."

Along with telehealth, Lincoln said the CN has adapted to ways in which�it provides services�and meets the needs of families, as a result of the pandemic.

"Our approach has been to push resources out on every level," she said. "On a community level, we are working with communications to provide tips and resources you can access from home such as mindfulness activities, relaxation techniques and apps to help with anxiety."

Lincoln said Behavioral Health Services' COVID-19 Emergency Response Grant it received will allow to "provide direct mental health and substance abuse treatment services for Native Americans residing in or near the Cherokee Nation jurisdiction who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic."

"Through this grant Cherokee Nation Behavioral Health will provide direct services to Cherokee communities, Cherokee Nation employees and Native American healthcare professionals who may have experienced trauma, loss, and stress related to the COVID-19 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic," she said. "Outreach through media will be strategic to raise awareness of proposed services and to reduce stigma regarding seeking and engaging in mental health services for mental disorders and for trauma-related stress, grief, anxiety, and depression."

The CN has also created a COVID-19 helpline to allow anyone experiencing adverse effects the ability to speak with a provider by calling 918-316-3492. It is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.