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‘Crisis situation’: Mental Health Services in NJ Stretched Thin during Pandemic

Dr. Jonathan Caspi Comments

Posted in: College News and Events

Feature image for Jonathan Caspi Featured in NY Times Article on Sibling Relationships

The emails and phone calls that come into therapist Dr. Jonathan Caspi’s practice in Montclair and Hazlet are often from families on the brink of combustion, largely propelled by the COVID-19 pandemic now closing in on two weary years. Dr. Caspi is also a Professor in the Family Science and Human Development Department.

And all Dr. Caspi can do at this point is politely decline to take them on. His practice has been at capacity for months.

“I used to refer them to other therapists, but they’re all full, too,” he said.

New Jersey’s mental health system has been stretched so thin over the course of the pandemic that getting help is a months-long wait for many.

For almost two years, most mental health counselors have been inundated with increased caseloads by people suffering from depression, anxiety and a host of other ailments brought on or exacerbated by the pandemic.

Now the new, highly contagious omicron variant is causing further problems. As has been seen in other health care settings, omicron has begun to deplete some mental health professionals who were still giving in-person counseling.

Dr. Caspi has never seen the demand for his services so high.

An author and longtime professor, Dr. Caspi has maintained a small private practice focusing on family, couples and singles therapy. But he hasn’t taken on a new patient in months.

“Sometimes the phone calls or emails are heartbreaking,” he said. “I don’t want to take them if I can’t devote the time needed to help them.”

He has made one exception: taking on former patients who requested his help during the pandemic.

Job stress and overall anxiety are cascading from adults to children, he said. Bickering that was once occasional and annoying has become frequent and intolerable. More people are retreating to their smartphones and other devices in lieu of real human contact. Feelings of intense isolation are strong among older singles — especially widows and divorcees.

The duration of the pandemic and its roller-coaster ways — a decline in COVID numbers followed by dispiriting surges — has added to the problems.

“They get hopeful that it’s going to get good, and then the rug is pulled out and there is anger,” Dr. Caspi said. “It’s sapping people’s endurance.”

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