Coronavirus leads to a surge in demand for mental health support

4 minutes
Coronavirus leads to a surge in demand for mental health support

Coronavirus has rocked the nation with a year of restrictions, lockdowns, missed gatherings and events, isolation and a staggering loss of more than half a million American lives. As the pandemic stretches into a second year, Americans are struggling with increasing rates of depression, anxiety and insomnia, and they are working hard to keep up with the demand.

When the pandemic began, Dr. Mary Alvord said there was an almost immediate increase in those seeking treatment for both anxiety and depression. Alvord is a psychologist and director of Alvord, Baker Associates in Rockville, Maryland, a group of 19 clinicians focused primarily on children, teens and families.

I think everyone was just in a state of disbelief that this happened so dramatically, Alvord said. This first rush was panic in terms of daily uncertainty of not knowing what was going to happen regarding the pandemic. And I think that it turned into a lot of sadness.

Psychologists like Alvord have seen more patients with anxiety and depression over the last year and most say they are treating patients remotely via telehealth. According to the American Psychological Association, a third of psychologists said they see more patients since the pandemic started last fall.

Of the psychologists who treat depression, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed by APA reported an increase in demand for treatment, while 60% of those who treat anxiety disorders saw an increase. Similar rises in demand for treatments for trauma and stress-related disorders and sleep-wake disorders were also reported.

We have a waitlist of around 187 people, said Alvord; we seem to reduce it and then we go back up again. The use of telehealth was expanded thanks to APA urgent orders issued by states to increase access to services during the pandemic, said the APA.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid also revised rules to allow expanded services via telehealth. The group is pushing to keep this access for at least six months after the federal government declares the pandemic is over. There are still many barriers to treatment, including the number of available mental health professionals, the cost, stigmas and time, but telehealth expansion has increased access to care for many.

You 're able to see a therapist in your own home.

You do n't need to rely on transportation or childcare. I do think that that helps you to be able to access treatment once you 're in treatment. But we still have a pretty substantial problem within the health-care system in having enough providers for people who need them, says Dr. Vaile Wright, senior director of Healthcare Innovation at the APA.

However, Wright noted that the lack of health care professionals has been a long-running, pre-pandemic problem. Even if we do things like increase retirement ages or reduce the number of workers, we are ultimately never going to meet the needs of all the people, he said.

The pandemic may have fueled growth in telehealth services, but the trajectory is expected to continue. According to global telehealth markets, beyond just therapy, is projected to reach$ 312 billion by 2026, according to PitchBook, more than quadrupling the 2019 levels. In 2020, over$ 1.8 billion was invested in virtual health companies, including PitchBook analysis shows that Doctor on Demand and MDLive both offer virtual therapy.

According to the APA, Frontline Health Workers have been treating young people under the age of 18 and fathers- more than mothers- as of late. It's too early to say if those who sought care during the pandemic will continue to access care once life goes back to normal, but expanded telehealth could help.

I think that the convenience that consumers have come to expect will encourage them to remain in treatment, rather than having to go back in person. So this is going to be a big component, Wright said; I also think that we will see long-term mental health consequences if individuals are n't able to overcome the stress they 're already experiencing right now. Wright noted that the most vulnerable workers -- including frontline health-care workers- parents with children under the age of 18, individuals from communities of color and younger adults with high levels of stress and distress are generally.

Alvord of Alvord, Baker Associates is also advocating for the expansion of telehealth and has trained 10,000 mental health professionals over the last year on how to do it efficiently and ethically.

A silver lining of the global challenges of the last year, said Cohen, is that the discussion around mental health has come to the forefront. We 're all in this together, so the message is `` You 're not alone '', she said.

The stigma of mental health really has lifted because it is okay to not be okay. There's a normal stress level which is part of life, and grief and loss and sadness that goes along with it.

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