While many of us are sheltering in place to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, a massive mental health pandemic is also brewing. Fears about COVID-19, the economic meltdown, and prolonged social-isolation are all taking a toll on mental health. Above all else, Americans say their mental health is suffering more than their physical and financial health due to COVID-19.
Like COVID-19, Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate
The tragic news of Dr. Lorma Breen, a top emergency room doctor at a Manhattan hospital, who committed suicide after working directly with COVID-19 patients is a reminder of the emotional burden healthcare workers face while battling COVID-19. In a recent study of Chinese health care workers, who treated COVID-19 patients, it was found that 50.4% suffer from depression, 44.6% have anxiety, and 34.0% have insomnia. While healthcare workers face life or death situations often in their job, COVID-19 has brought unique challenges to how healthcare workers normally cope with the demands of their role. While previously it was possible to lean on family and friends for emotional support, many front-line healthcare workers are isolating from their own families to avoid potentially spreading the novel coronavirus.
Beyond front-line medical workers, many Americans are feeling isolated and anxious. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that nearly half (45%) of adults in the United States stated that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to isolation, high unemployment, worry, and increased stress over the virus. As the coronavirus continues to spread, this toll on people’s mental health and stress levels is unlikely to subside.
Telehealth Expands Access to Behavioral Healthcare
Virtual visits can help people dealing with these stressors receive access to behavioral healthcare. With so many in isolation dealing with high unemployment, increased stress, as well as prior mental health problems, the need for mental health care is higher now than ever before. Telehealth visits allows for patients to be seen without the additional stress of leaving their home and ensures they get the care they need at a safe distance. During this pandemic, virtual visits can help people feel less isolated, learn coping tools, develop goals and routines, and provide emotional support.
As states begin to look at re-opening businesses, behavioral telehealth can continue to bring support to patients that might not otherwise receive care. Prior to COVID-19, many doctors using telepsychiatry often found that they were able to reach more patients who needed help through virtual visits. And attending therapy from home can also remove the fear of stigma for some patients. Telehealth further allows patients changing residences and with uncertain transportation access to receive care wherever they are. With patient location changes, it also provides the ability to maintain a consistent relationship with a specific provider.
We must remember that our valuable healthcare providers and first responders are also patients. No amount of training will prepare them for the toll this virus can take on their personal overall health. Giving them the privacy to seek out help in a time-limited environment, should be a priority for their families and employers. Telehealth can be a lifeline and there are mental health providers who stand ready to support them during an especially difficult time.
The Demand for Mental Health Treatment is Now
As our healthcare system is overloaded with COVID-19 patients we must not forget to also address the mental health of our communities. The need for accessible behavioral care has long challenged our healthcare system. The sharp increase of people reporting that their mental health has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is only increasing the demand for accessible behavioral care.