Help available at UAMS for stress, mental illness related to COVID-19


LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) announced Tuesday Arkansans experiencing mental health issues or stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic can receive immediate help 24 hours a day through the AR-Connect program with no out-of-pocket cost to the patient.

Officials say the program began in May.

It offers the opportunity to talk to a trained medical professional by phone or live video for anyone dealing with anxiety, depression and substance abuse or discomfort stemming from the pandemic.

The AR-Connect call center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 501-526-3563 or 800-482-9921.

The live video virtual clinic is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“AR-Connect came about because of COVID-19 and it has been very helpful for those dealing with the problems it has caused in their lives,” said G. Richard Smith, M.D., director of the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute and chair of the Department of Psychiatry in the UAMS College of Medicine. “There are so many people across our state needing help and not knowing where to turn, particularly those worried about the effect COVID-19 is having on them and their loved ones. For them, AR-Connect has been a godsend.”

UAMS officials say callers are screened by specially-trained nurses, and if needed, are contacted by a therapist within 24 business hours.

Virtual appointments are done through the phone or live video, with the goal to find help for the patients in their community.

“Many of the calls we have received since May have been from people who were unable to get help because of COVID-19 and all of the restrictions it has caused,” said Smith. “Others may have simply needed to find resources like child care or shelter. We’ve been fortunate enough to help everyone who has called, no matter what they needed.”

Officials say the lack of trained behavioral health specialists in Arkansas and those associating a stigma with mental illness has made it difficult for many Arkansans to get the help they need.

AR-Connect offers timely care without the need for a referral.

“Those patients who appear in danger of committing suicide are given the number for the national suicide hotline or their nearest emergency room,” said Smith. “For everyone else, we make sure they have an appointment with a trained therapist who can evaluate their needs and determine the best way to meet them.”

Officials say once the AR-Connect therapists are confident the condition has been properly addressed, they will connect the patient with a provider in their community for long-term care and follow up with the patient in a month and six months to ensure they are receiving the care needed.

UAMS says the creation of the program was funded in part by a grant by the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).


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