There’s no getting around it: life looks very different today than it did a few short months ago. And it’s all because of an invisible enemy that didn’t even exist this time last year.
The novel coronavirus emerged seemingly out of nowhere to threaten people’s health, families, livelihoods. It has put the world on pause. And in doing so, it has called on people to abandon almost everything that had felt normal, predictable, and reliable.
And that’s a pretty disorienting feeling. But as you focus on protecting your physical health and the health of those nearest and dearest to you, it’s all too easy to forget about protecting your mental health as well.
That’s a dangerous precedent because as you grapple with unprecedented change and seemingly limitless uncertainty, it’s crucial to understand the price your heart, mind, and spirit are paying. Now, more than ever, you may be battling depression, stress, and anxiety.
For a great many of you, the coronavirus may have taken your sense of peace and security. But with telehealth, we can start to get it back.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth has been around for quite a while. However, the pandemic, and the urgent need for social distancing, has brought the incredible benefits, and the immense promise, of telehealth to light.
Specifically, patients and caregivers who may have once resisted using telehealth technologies are now finding themselves forced to do so because of the lockdown. And what they’re discovering is that healthcare providers can do almost everything via telehealth that they can do in a physical office.
Telemedicine has proven to be far more than just a last-ditch alternative for patients who can’t risk an in-patient visit. Studies show that telehealthcare is highly effective, pandemic or no pandemic. This is because patients can access the care they need anytime, and from anywhere. That’s increasing not only the frequency of care but also the quality of the patient/care provider relationship.
That’s because telemedicine allows patients to have consistent contact with their provider, whenever and wherever they may need it. For particularly fragile patients, such as the disabled and the elderly, who may be unable to keep routine medical appointments, telehealth may be their only means of ensuring quality care.
Best of all, more than 60% of patients say the care they received through telehealth was as good as in-person care. Another 20% said it was better!
One of the greatest assets of telehealth is that there’s a service for practically any need. That means that with telehealth, you can access everything from health education to nursing care to mental health counseling.
And you can do it without leaving the safety and comfort of your own home! But it’s not just physical health that can be tended from home. If you are facing depression or anxiety, the last thing you need is to have to face the outside world in the midst of a pandemic.
That’s where the benefits of telemedicine for mental healthcare come in!
Telemedicine and Mental Health
The first thing to know about telemedicine and mental health is that telemedicine and telehealth aren’t quite the same. Rather, telemedicine is an aspect of telehealth. The latter is a blanket term that basically includes all the technologies and the practices used to provide healthcare remotely. So remote medical monitoring devices, like pulse oximeters or at-home EKGs, are a part of telehealth.
Telemedicine, though, refers specifically to healthcare provided remotely, to the direct interaction between the patient and the care provider. And telemedicine is precisely what mental healthcare patients need, the immediate support and care of their counselor or psychiatrist, provided remotely.
One of the more overlooked benefits of telemedicine is its important role in mental healthcare. Even prior to the pandemic, telemedicine was being used by patients seeking on-demand mental health services. These technologies allowed patients to have immediate access to potentially life-saving mental health services.
This also freed them of the need to confront the stigmatization too many patients still feel when they seek care in a psychiatric facility or counselor’s office. When it feels nearly impossible even to get out of bed, the thought of facing the judgment of others can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It can be that final excuse patients need not get the help they deserve.
Just as with physical telehealthcare, telepsychiatry can also provide access to essential services for patients who otherwise wouldn’t have it. This would include not just the elderly and disabled, but also patients who live in remote areas or who might lack reliable transportation.
Patients suffering from severe depression, likewise, might not be able to summon the will to routinely travel to a counselor’s office when they are in the throes of their disease. But when the disease makes it feel impossible even to leave the bed, let alone the house, patients can still reach out for help with just the click of a mouse or the touch of a phone screen.
Telepsychiatry and COVID-19
Telepsychiatry has been both saving lives and making life better for patients with mental illness for a number of years now. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has created the kind of demand that has never before been seen.
Self-isolation, massive job losses, and the fear of the virus itself mean that even the healthiest and happiest among us are now facing mental health challenges we could never have imagined. From an increase in substance abuse to skyrocketing rates of domestic violence and suicidality, the need for mental health support inside the home is greater than ever before.
Online counseling sessions, including cognitive behavioral therapy, can help quiet the racing thoughts that are often associated with anxiety and depression. And that’s not only going to make a significant difference to your emotional and psychological health, but it’s also going to support your physical health as well.
An unquiet mind, for example, is the prime culprit of insomnia. When you’re not getting adequate and restful sleep, your immune system will feel it first. And facing a global pandemic with a compromised immune system is pretty much the last thing you could want.
Not only this but accessing mental and behavioral healthcare can help you to draw your own life’s map through these unknown waters. Your counselor can help you get the perspective you need to stop panicking, stop catastrophizing, and start creating a tangible strategy for getting through this crisis.
Your counselor can help you come up with a plan for practicing extreme self-care for yourself and your family, a plan to optimize your nutrition, sleep, activity, work, and fun. With your mental healthcare provider, you can come up with a pandemic protocol to help you worry less and live more, both during and after the outbreak.
The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the enormous power of telehealth mental health. With telemedicine, our most vulnerable populations can continue to receive the essential healthcare services they need without risking exposure to the virus. As important as telemedicine is to physical health, however, it may be even more important for mental healthcare, something that has never been more needed than right now. As the world adjusts to a “new abnormal” in the face of a global lockdown, rates of anxiety, depression, addiction, and abuse are surging. Telepsychiatry and online CBT counseling can help stem this terrifying tide. These can help provide perspective, comfort, and security in an uncertain time. In a world that seems dark and frightening, these services can provide a life-saving ray of hope.