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Christina Rosario

By: Christina Rosario on May 20th, 2020

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How the Mental Health Industry Has Been Impacted By COVID-19

Healthcare Advice | Value-Based Care

As we strive to preserve people’s physical health and well-being during the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, it’s important to recognize COVID-19’s impact on mental health as well. The behavioral health/mental health industry is already seeing a major spike because of COVID-19 limiting individuals’ ability to see therapists or participate in group meetings.

Staying up-to-date on how the mental health industry is currently being affected by COVID-19 is crucial for helping patients cope with their problems and coming up with new options to provide them the services they need.

In this article, we will cover the challenges that mental health patients are experiencing and how medical practices can support them during this time. 

Financial Pressure

It’s no secret that unemployment is skyrocketing as many people’s jobs have been shut down due to the pandemic. 

This leads to financial uncertainty, which could prevent patients from getting the care they need, for fear of being unable to pay bills for appointments or for prescription medications to improve their mental health.

Of course, economic pressures are impacting the mental health industry too. As the Washington Post put it, “A survey of local mental health and drug addiction centers showed the pandemic has already left many on the brink of financial collapse, preventing them from providing services that generate much of their reimbursement revenue.” 

What’s more, the report indicated that at least 60 percent said: “they would run out of funding in less than three months and had already closed some programs.”

More Patients Seeking Help During the Crisis

Anxiety levels are rising along with the growing numbers of confirmed infected people and deaths from COVID-19 in the United States. The group Mental Health America noted that the one in five people who have mental health conditions now (and the one in two who are considered at risk) deserve “personal, professional, and policy measures now to address” these issues. 

MHA said it saw an increase of 19% of patients screening for clinical anxiety during the first weeks in February and a 12% increase during the first half of March. Instead of considering them to merely be the “worried well,” MHA suggests that the uptick in calls for help represents thousands of individuals being negatively affected by the coronavirus.

The Washington Post said that the number of people calling a federal emergency hotline for those experiencing emotional distress went up by more than 1,000% in April 2020 from April 2019, with about 20,000 people texting to the hotline.

“When diseases strike, experts say, they cast a shadow pandemic of psychological and societal injuries. The shadow often trails the disease by weeks, months, even years,” noted the Post, highlighting a Great Recession study conducted in 2007 that showed a 1.6% increase in the rate of suicides for every percentage point of increase in the unemployment rate. “Using such estimations, a Texas nonprofit — Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute — created models that suggest if unemployment amid the coronavirus pandemic ends up rising 5 percentage points to a level similar to the Great Recession, an additional 4,000 people could die of suicide and an additional 4,800 from drug overdoses.”

And according to the Harvard Gazette, 19% of patients responding to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey said that the COVID-19 pandemic is having a “major impact” on their mental health. 

With financial uncertainty amid massive layoffs and companies shutting down, plus the fear and sadness of losing loved ones, the stress is taking a toll. “We know that job loss and foreclosure are associated with increased rates of depression and anxiety, and we know depression occurs after bereavement,” said Karestan Koenen, professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Individual Sessions and Group Therapy

As we practice social distancing by wearing masks and gloves in public and keeping at least 6 feet away from people to avoid spreading or catching COVID-19, it becomes difficult to manage in-person meetings

This means that patients who rely on private sessions with their mental health or behavioral health professional and those whose treatment is built around attending group therapy sessions find themselves cut off from these vitally needed services. 

Patients who are afraid to use crowded public transportation for fear of exposure to the coronavirus may miss important meetings with mental/behavioral health professionals too. And since the pandemic itself is causing more stress and anxiety in the population, lack of access to services becomes even more of a problem for patients in crisis.

Of course, patients do not have to feel completely cut off from their care providers. An alternative exists, in the form of telehealth services through phone and online video chatting.

Relying on Telehealth

If your mental/behavioral health organization is experiencing difficulties in taking care of patients during in-person meetings or if any of your patients are unable to come in, you’ll want to consider implementing a telehealth solution. 

You’ll need to stay abreast of current regulations, though. For example, a 2008 pharmaceutical law called the Ryan Haight Act requires health care service providers to make an in-person examination of patients before being permitted to send an electronic prescription for a controlled substance (such as medicines used to quell anxiety or to treat addition to opioids), as reported by the Washington Post. The paper also noted that Washington State recently applied for a waiver so they can bill for behavioral health services done via telehealth at the same payment rates as they charge for appointments done in person.

Roll Call reported insight on the topic from Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, who said, “We’re seeing a lot of states respond by proposing pretty radical changes to their telehealth reimbursement policies both by increasing types of services that can be delivered by telehealth, the types of professionals that can deliver those services, as well as thinking very broadly about the types of technologies that can be used.”

Nationwide, Medicare regulations have been lifted temporarily to provide coverage for telehealth services. So make sure that you stay on top of nationwide regulations as well as any changes in your particular state when contemplating a telehealth initiative to better serve your patients during the pandemic.

Help Your Mental Health Patients

Over the coming months, as we continue to contend with COVID-19, it’s clear that we will have to do as much as possible to protect patients not only physically but mentally as well. 

To do so, you will need a telehealth solution that will empower patients to see the professionals they need. For more information, check out this free informational video on what Medics Telemedicine can offer for your practice and your clients. 

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About Christina Rosario

Christina Rosario is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Advanced Data Systems Corporation, a leading provider of healthcare IT solutions for medical practices and billing companies. When she's not helping ADS clients boost productivity and profitability, she can be found browsing travel websites, shopping in NYC, and spending time with her family.