The current COVID-19 pandemic is not a national issue, it’s a global crisis. In order to support one another, it’s important to stay-up-to-date with the latest research and implement key changes as needed. This is particularly important in terms of the public’s mental health needs.
COVID-19 has also fuelled a demand for new mental health apps. From chatbots to text-a-therapist platforms, there is a clear need for greater digital psychological support amid the current pandemic.
The Impact of Social Distancing on Mental Health
COVID-19 is unique in that it is leading to unprecedented changes, disrupting every aspect of everyday life. Due to the nature of the current coronavirus, social distancing measures have been implemented and in some cases, cities have entered lockdown. As of Monday, April 27th, 35 U.S. states have issued stay-at-home orders.
While these measures will help stop the spread and protect your physical health, there may be significant mental health consequences. As stated in a 2019 review, researchers found that psychological distress is common both during and after periods of quarantine. Not only did people experience increased fear, sadness, irritability, stress, anger, and insomnia, but some consequences were found to be long-lasting. Substance and alcohol abuse, for example, was more common up to three years after quarantine.
As reported by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, intermittent social distancing may be needed through 2022 to better manage the current pandemic. Although the social, educational, and economic consequences of social distancing are well understood, health experts are concerned about the potential catastrophic burden on the healthcare system if distancing measures are not sustained for long enough.
COVID-19 Has Caused a Shift in Mental Health Care
In order to better adjust to social distancing measures and help meet the increased demand for mental health support, many mental health providers have begun ramping up online care. Although mental health therapy was already moving in this direction prior to COVID-19, the current pandemic has caused an immediate need for digital health services.
These changes are being made across the entire mental health care industry, creating a beneficial domino effect. For example, Medicare announced that for the time being, the insurance program would expand coverage for providers using telehealth services, including mental health treatment.
Federal and state legislation and regulation has also rapidly changed in response to COVID-19, making telehealth more accessible. Bill 96-1, which was implemented on March 17, is what led to the easing of telehealth access in relation to Medicare.
Prior to this bill, patients could only use these services in select locations, using specific video technology. However, now, patients can receive support in their home and if need be, are able to seek telehealth services using their telephone. In addition, bill 96-1 included $500 million to help expand coverage for Medicare’s telehealth services.
During the current pandemic, health care providers are also able to use communication apps such as Skype and Facebook without worrying about HIPPA violations. Once again, this will make virtual mental health support more accessible. As stated by John Torous at Harvard Medical School, “Virtual therapy has really exceeded people’s expectations in the last few weeks.”
As COVID-19 continues to catapult the use of virtual therapy, for many, online support may become the new norm.
If you’re currently struggling, it’s imperative that you practice self-care. To improve your mental health, please refer to the following:
- Resources on COVID-19
- Resources on the importance of diet in relation to mental health
- Resources on the relationship between exercise and mental health
- Resources on the power of mindfulness
- Resources on how sleep supports mental health
- Resources on the benefits of therapy