A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that nearly half (45%) of adults in the United States said that their mental health had been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine. The CDC also recently reported that 25.5% of 18-24-year-olds surveyed had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.
Everyone has been affected, some more than the others.
These groups are often at the most significant risk of adverse emotional impact.
- High-risk individuals, including the elderly, immunocompromised, and those in group housing, are vulnerable to fear-induced anxiety.
- People with pre-existing physical or mental health diagnoses are at risk of increased stress-related consequences.
- Medical providers worry about becoming sick themselves or infecting family members. Potential shortages of equipment, long hours, and the emotional toll of constant decision making add to their pressure.
Many people face the stress of being quarantined, caring for children without the usual resources, and the threat of unemployment.
Emotional outcomes include anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, fear, confusion, anger, and boredom. These stressors can lead to domestic violence, substance abuse, and if untreated, even death.
It is Time to Rethink Health Care Delivery
Telehealth can help manage the looming demands for mental health treatment. Traditionally, patients with physical complaints were sent to their primary care physicians. At the same time, those with suspected mental health issues were funneled to psychologists and psychiatrists.
The options for segregated care are more limited now. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD are frequently present, including diabetes, cardiopulmonary issues, and chronic pain.
In-person visits are limited, and accessing mental health services is even harder for people in lower socioeconomic classes.
COVID-19 Created the Impetus for Innovation
As healthcare professionals, we must push to make programs and resources available to meet this challenge.
The United States needs to move to implement a strategy to deal with the looming crisis in mental health. If we wait any longer, it will be too late.
In March, we all read about the shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), putting healthcare workers at risk and potentially preventing needed patient care.
Mental health is the next crisis. The shortages of mental health care are going to escalate problems and deaths of desperation.
What Needs to Happen Now?
- This crisis is allowing mental health providers to access a new paradigm through technology. To create a new definition of what it means for a patient to see their provider.
- A massive public information campaign must be quickly implemented to make it easier for people to find mental health services.
- Clinics and providers must leverage telehealth technology to provide innovative and compassionate solutions.
Our professional responsibility is to enhance psychological resilience in healthy people and provide the most vulnerable access to the mental health services they need.
Innovative clinics, such as Aroostook Mental Health Services, Inc. (AMHC), are expanding telemedicine services to reach more clients and have seen a 20% increase in client visits since the pandemic started. Their experience was featured in a recent Maine news story.
Ellen Bemis, AMHC CEO, explained, “It can be a challenge to recruit psychiatrists to rural areas such as ours. By offering the service remotely, we help ensure our community members receive the support they need. Iris Telehealth has been an important part of our ability to adapt quickly to the changes that occurred with the pandemic.”
Post-Coronavirus Healthcare Will Include More Technology
Services need to become more available to all members of society, saving money and, more importantly, human suffering.
- Students to grandparents have become more familiar with the advantages of teleconference platforms during the pandemic.
- Primary care physicians see more patients. Telehealth makes it possible to consult with remotely located mental health providers, as needed.
- A truly bright spot in the pandemic gloom is the increased access to telepsychiatry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has severe implications for individual and collective health and emotional well-being. Healthcare providers have a primary role in not only medical care but in supporting their community's psychosocial needs and delivering mental health care to the public.
If you would like more information on how telepsychiatry can help meet your behavioral health needs, please reach out to us on our website. Be well.