COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on mental health, and we’re only beginning to see the extent of it. Almost 41% of US adults in a survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported mental health or substance use struggles during the pandemic.
“At any given time in the United States, about one-fifth of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness,” Dr. Joshua Gordon, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, tells CNN.
“It does appear that the rates of reporting of symptoms have increased from that baseline — so that we’re seeing as much as 30% or 40% of Americans reporting symptoms,” he says, adding that it shows an approximately two-fold increase over what would have been expected, pre-pandemic.
Despite this, there is a silver lining—demand for mental health professionals has boomed as people seek much-needed help—and telehealth is helping practitioners fill that demand.
How COVID-19 Has Impacted Mental Health Worldwide
“The physical aspects of the pandemic are really visible,” said Lisa Carlson, the immediate past president of the American Public Health Association and an executive administrator at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “We have supply shortages and economic stress, fear of illness, all of our disrupted routines, but there’s a real grief in all of that.”
“We don’t have a vaccine for our mental health like we do for our physical health,” Carlson added. “So, it will take longer to come out of those challenges.”
Some of the mental health issues we’re seeing include burnout, interrupted sleep patterns, anxiety, and depression; which have been exacerbated by work instability, collective trauma, isolation, and sedentism. Furthermore, some behaviors thrive in isolation—such as drug use and unhealthy eating patterns.
“Not only do eating disorders thrive in isolation,” says Chelsea Kronengold, the communications manager of the National Eating Disorders Association, to CNN. “There is also added anxiety and guilt about the possibility of running out of food and/or having too much food available at all times.”
Why Patients and Providers Are Embracing Telehealth
The use of telehealth has boomed during the pandemic. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid also revised rules to allow expanded services via telehealth. It’s proving massively popular and isn’t showing signs of slowing down: The global telehealth market is projected to reach $266 billion by 2026, according to data from Fortune Business Insights, almost quadrupling 2019 levels.
“You’re able to see a therapist in your own home, you don’t have to rely on transportation or childcare. I do think that that helps, once you’re in treatment, to be able to access it. But we still have a pretty substantial problem within the healthcare system in having enough providers for the people who need them,” says Dr. Vaile Wright, senior director of Healthcare Innovation at the APA.
Another big benefit to telehealth services is flexibility. You don’t need to be suffering from severe depression or anxiety to benefit: with coaching, guided meditation, and counseling, patients can keep on top of their general health well-being. This has the added benefit of stopping issues before they snowball into something more serious.
“It’s essential to make your health a priority during this time. The critical self-care activities are sleep, physical exercise and a healthy diet,” says Katherine Ponte, who founded the online peer support community ForLikeMinds and lives with bipolar 1 disorder.
“Find ways to address forms of stress, such as journaling, going for walks or calling a loved one. Maintaining a sense of normality and routine can also reduce stress,” she adds. “It can be especially helpful to practice mindfulness and try not [to] think of the future or worst-case scenarios.”
Mental Health + Telehealth: What’s Next?
The digitalization of mental healthcare promises to usher in a stronger health infrastructure and a more accessible, robust way for patients to access the support they need—while also promoting preventative treatment, reducing costs, and lowering administration duties for healthcare professionals.
The uptake of mental health support services via telehealth has skyrocketed during the pandemic, and it’s unlikely it’ll fall back down to pre-pandemic levels now we’ve seen the potential.
Despite this, there are issues to be addressed. Data is still a concern: one 2020 study by KPMG found that 54% of participants did not trust companies to use their personal information ethically, while 87% would argue that data privacy is a human right. Meanwhile, those with poor internet connections will struggle to access the care they need, while older patients may have trouble with the technology compared to their younger counterparts.
Education and support are key. Healthcare professionals need to guide their patients through the technology so they feel confident using it. If they don’t, they won’t—it’s as simple as that. Practitioners should also ensure patients’ data concerns are addressed, both through investing in secure technology and giving patients the information they need.
How ChronWell Can Help
Our comprehensive telehealth and RPM solutions improve the coordination between doctors and patients. We also offer tailored programs, in addition to medication management and patient information. Patients get round-the-clock medical attention, more than one condition can be monitored, and monthly progress reports are available.
To ensure every patient’s privacy, we perform internal and external audits, and only partner with companies that are HIPAA and SOC2 certified. Our technology was designed from the ground up, and we train employees extensively on how to spot and prevent security risks.
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