Hawaii DOH launches expansion of mental health services in response to pandemic

The Hawaii Department of Health and CARE Hawaii have launched a new crisis counseling assistance program to provide support for children and adults experiencing challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This program was made possible by a $2.1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


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The new program, called “Kū Makani – The Hawai’i Resiliency Project,” will offer counseling, education, information and resource navigation while promoting healthy coping, empowerment and resilience.

Amy Curtis, program administrator for the Adult Mental Health Division at the department, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has touched everyone in the islands, from keiki to kupuna. We are pleased to be able to provide yet another resource to help those of us who need some extra support right now.”

A CDC report found that from the middle of March to October, the proportion of emergency room visits related to children’s mental health rose dramatically for school-aged children and adolescents when compared to the previous year. In that time period, visits for children aged 5-11 increased 24% and 31% for adolescents aged 12-17.

Adults are not faring much better. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, an increase from 1 in 10 in 2019.

Kathleen Merriam, team leader for Kū Makani, says that this is not unexpected.

“It is normal to experience difficulty with adapting to the new challenges of managing work, school, family, or home due to COVID-19, to feel isolated or anxious, or to worry about meeting basic needs like having enough food or access to healthcare. If you or someone you love needs support, don’t be afraid to reach out.”

Residents can access “Kū Makani” by calling Hawai‘i CARES 1-800-753-6879 and selecting option #1 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and state holidays, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Services are available for children, teenagers and adults. Trained crisis counselors are located on each major island, including staff bilingual in Ilokano, Spanish, Hawaiian, Tongan, Vietnamese, Mandarin, Japanese, Palauan and Samoan.