As COVID cases surged across many states, and now are doing so again, the mental health industry needs to act fast in order to help people who are falling into their own crisis
Previously published on permission.
The constant stream of stressful news never seems to end. A confluence of earth-shattering events – the coronavirus pandemic and mass protests against racial injustice – causes millions of people to check on the latest developments via their social media feed.
The habit has given rise to the term “doom scrolling” – continuing to scroll through bad news even though it’s disheartening or depressing. But while technology can keep people down in the dumps with reports of the latest dismal events, it also provides a way for them to improve their mental health.
And that’s important because the pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis, says Matt Marek, founder and CEO of Good Neighbor (www.goodneighbor.care), which provides mental health services and assistance with developmental disabilities.
“As COVID cases surged across many states, and now are doing so again, the mental health industry needs to act fast in order to help people who are falling into their own crisis,” Marek says. “But the good news is that the industry is better equipped to help people, thanks in large part to technology.”
Marek points to three key technological access points that make help for mental health troubles more readily available:
- Smartphone apps. These can help people cope with anxiety, depression, addiction and other disorders. There are hundreds of available apps, and they allow users to share stories and cope with symptoms. “When you can’t afford therapy but are struggling to handle your illness alone, apps are a good alternative,” Marek says. “Most are free and others are reasonably priced, and they offer resources that make therapeutic techniques more accessible and cost-effective. Mental health apps also can provide useful data to therapists and physicians as well as benefit patients.”
- Telehealth. With social distancing still a primary safety measure, telehealth allows the patient to video conference with the doctor, and the method is gaining momentum in mental health. “Telehealth offers many advantages for mental health treatment,” Marek says. “It improves access and comfort for patients who won’t see a doctor in person, and sometimes video conferencing is more beneficial than phone calls because a human connection happens faster via video. Many people in the wellness industry are still trying to figure out how to incorporate mental health into their practice, and telehealth offers that integration.”
- Internet support groups. With some people not comfortable attending support groups near their homes, internet support groups provide an alternative. “People can be anonymous and feel comfortable revealing their struggles and engaging with other participants,” Marek says. “One of the best things about support groups always has been the sense of community and comfort in relating to others going through similar struggles as yourself. For a time, you forget that feeling of being alone. Also, support groups often provide resources for mental health information and professional help.”
The toll these life-changing times are taking on the general population’s mental health cannot be overstated. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found nearly half the people in the United States feel the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their mental health.
Accessibility to mental health treatment has long been a problem, with people sometimes waiting three to six months to get an appointment, Marek says. The effects of the pandemic on people’s sense of isolation, anxiety, and the economy, coupled with the emotional impact of the social unrest, have made mental health options more important than ever.
“Challenging times like this exacerbate mental health struggles,” Marek says. “Many suffer in silence, but they don’t have to. Technology has opened the door to more people to get the help and support they need.”
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