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St. Luke's to study how Idahoans are coping with mental stresses of COVID-19

Mental health specialists believe the study will help them to direct their care to those who need it the most.

BOISE, Idaho — The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on everyone in some shape or form - whether it's physically, financially or mentally.

Now St. Luke's Health System is planning to study how Idahoans are coping with the mental stresses related to COVID-19.

The study is possible thanks to a $450,000 grant from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute

St. Luke's officials told KTVB that they have two goals for the study: First, they want to measure the prevalence of several different measures of mental distress - such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, and risks of suicide.

Once researchers have a sense of how many of their patients and staff are struggling with those issues, they'll conduct a clinical trial, which will compare the effectiveness of two different versions of what they call a "Caring Contacts Intervention," which involves sending out a series of text messages to check in with people and let them know they are being thought about.

"I think this grant provides a tremendous opportunity for us to go from the big numbers that we're hearing at the national level," said Dr. Anna Radin, a researcher at St. Luke's. "40% of people are struggling with some form of mental distress but we haven't had an opportunity to dive deep into our patient population and to look at how our own staff and providers are doing in a scientifically robust way."

Mental health specialists believe the study will help them to direct their efforts at those who need it the most.

"We have a high need and not a lot of behavioral care providers are available to provide the care," said Dr. Christopher Edwards, a psychologist at St. Lukes in Twin Falls. "So recognizing that along with the current COVID situation and circumstance, we're hoping this study will help us understand where the need is and focus the need on those who need care and provide some initial intervention for them."

St. Luke's is working in partnership with the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline and the University of Washington.

Once the study is complete, the research will be shared throughout the country.

Enrollment for the study, which will last for six months, is set to begin in January.

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling or texting 208-398-4357 or 800-273-8255.

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