We are facing truly unprecedented circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic. It is affecting our families, our communities, and our way of life. No generation is left untouched. Families are juggling new working from home dynamics, older adults are cut off from visitors at senior living communities, and students are finding themselves missing out on important milestones and activities.
We must all concern ourselves with not only the spread of COVID-19, but also the mental health impacts that arise as a result of prolonged isolation and anxiety. For those of us in the behavioral health realm, the primary focus is providing uninterrupted care for those who depend on mental health professionals for guidance and support. This is especially important for those patients who may also have comorbid risk factors, or family members who may be at high risk from COVID-19, where the dangers to health must be balanced with the need for behavioral health care services.
Mental Health Concerns Increase During Crises
Approximately one third of Americans report that the coronavirus has caused mental wellness concerns, according to a survey released recently by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Of those, 14% say worrying about the virus has had a “major negative impact” on their mental well-being. During times of social distancing and isolation, we also see an increase in psychological traumas such as domestic violence, child abuse, addiction, and neglect.
For those already receiving behavioral health services, maintaining regular counseling appointments may suffice. There may also be a significant increase in individuals needing your help given these stressful circumstances.
Telehealth Technology: A Lifeline
Physical illness that goes undetected and untreated can become debilitating. Similarly, ignored psychological issues can become equally crippling. Physicians across the country are emphasizing the importance of telemedicine to help the homebound diagnose everything from a simple cold to potential coronavirus symptoms. Telemedicine for mental health issues is just as vital.
Maintaining a connection to our routines, loved ones, and health resources is paramount as we continue to be physically separated from our communities, careers, and families. Not being able to “find someone to talk to” should never be a barrier to obtaining mental health care.
When in-person sessions are no longer an option, telehealth is an effective and safe way to receive counseling support. Unlike a phone call, videoconferencing allows a face-to-face connection where clients can speak candidly about their feelings and stressors. This option provides continuity of care for those receiving therapy, treatment, and support for mental illness or behavioral health issues prior to the pandemic. It also allows us to respond to the influx of individuals seeking support from COVID-19 related stressors to receive help and guidance.
Let’s Make Virtual Care the New Norm
While the gold standard for the provision of services has always been an in-person model, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that tele- and virtual health care services are both necessary and effective. During this pandemic, we are finding innovative ways to meet the physical, socioemotional, and behavioral health needs of our community. Yet, even in a post-COVID-19 world, individuals will continue to experience barriers to accessing care. We should both anticipate and advocate for telehealth as a viable option for providing behavioral and mental health services, both today and in the years to come.
During these tenuous times, it is our duty as mental health professionals to provide support and resources to individuals, families, and the community. I’m hopeful that insurance companies along with state and federal governments will understand the need for telehealth even after this pandemic ends. As we navigate these unchartered waters, we will do whatever it takes to keep our clients safe and healthy, not only for today, but for the tomorrows yet to come.
Dr. Anthony DiFabio is the President and CEO of Acenda Integrated Health, a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to world-class prevention, treatment, and wellness services. His vision for innovative care and strategic development has elevated him as a leader within health and social services. Acenda is at the forefront of community-based services by offering more than 100 innovative programs that support children, adults, families, veterans, caregivers and the community at large.