There’s a good chance the person you love, or just happen to be talking to, is not feeling super well.
Along with exacerbating a lot of other awful things, COVID-19 has coincided with a steep rise in mental health disorders. Forty-one percent of adults have reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder over the past year. Only 11 percent had reported those symptoms before the pandemic (Kaiser Family Foundation).
For young adults, the situation is worse. For those ages 18-24, the percentage reporting anxiety or depression climbs to 56 percent.
Also on the increase: substance abuse, drug overdose deaths, and suicide ideation across all adult age ranges, but especially among young adults.
Calls to a suicide hotline in Los Angeles have increased 8,000 percent (The Commonwealth Fund). The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has reported a spike of more than 70 percent in the number of calls and online chat inquiries to its hotline compared to the same time period last year.
Many of us, who are distanced from loved ones, feel isolated and lonely. And isolation is a petri dish for mental health disorders.
Mental health treatment and recovery depends on the exact opposite of social distancing: it requires close contact. It requires time with therapists, dieticians, and doctors. Meetings with support groups. Shared outings. A sense of community and belonging.
Unfortunately, not everyone can access needed care—pandemic or not. Adults with severe psychological distress are more likely to be uninsured. Even those with insurance can face barriers due to a lack of in-network options for mental health care and substance abuse.
Many people seeking care are finding some measure of relief using digital platforms such as telehealth. The stimulus bills contained money to expand access to telehealth and other remote care programs for those covered by Medicare, private insurance, and other federally-funded programs. And many health care companies are teaming up with tech companies to offer innovative telehealth services.
Ayana Therapy offers telemedicine therapy that uses an algorithm to match users with therapists based on their gender, orientation, ethnicity, culture, class, language, and values. Eric Coly founded the company because he had a personal unmet need for a therapist. He writes on the company’s website: “Finding a counselor one feels comfortable opening up to while of color, queer, or an intersection of both, is very difficult.”
Calm offers an app to promote sleep, meditation, and relaxation. It has been downloaded over 100 million times.
Recovery Record helps those suffering from an eating disorder stay motivated and track compliance with their meal plans. The app also allows a clinician and client to communicate regarding daily progress, so that time typically spent catching up during in-person sessions can be spent more productively on other issues. It’s a novel digital/in-person hybrid treatment approach.
These are just a few examples of innovations that might help people seeking treatment for mental health disorders. It’s not nearly enough. Health care companies need to expand and cover more treatment options to better serve their customers. Regulators must do something about onerous requirements that therapists be licensed in every state where they practice, which makes it difficult to cross state lines when providing telehealth.
Something else must be done, by all of us. We need to stay tuned to the people around us. We need to check in and ask others how they are feeling, if they are all right, if there’s anything we can do to help.
Is there anything I can do for you?