Dr. Itoro Ibia, a colleague, recently shared a sobering Facebook post about the increased mental health issues, especially for many marginalized people, during the pandemic.
"40% of U.S. Adults Reported Worsening Mental Health in Late June Due to Pandemic, CDC Finds U.S. adults reported worsening mental health associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Young adults, individuals who identified as Black and/or Hispanic, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported disproportionately worse mental health outcomes. ‘Addressing mental health disparities and preparing support systems to mitigate mental health consequences as the pandemic evolves will continue to be needed urgently,’ wrote Mark É. Czeisler of the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia; Emiko Petrosky, M.D., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Response Team; and colleagues." (Ibia, 2020)
In addition, the U.S. suicide rate reached historic highs since the COVID-19 pandemic, with rates at the highest levels since World War II. Economic and social pressures this year have heightened the risks, worrying experts, health officials and lawmakers. CDC Director Robert Redfield commented in July on a spike in suicides. Some say we will not know the full extent of the mental health related issues created from the pandemic for at least 2 years post pandemic. Other experts say it is too early to draw conclusions without solid data. (Sandhya Raman, 2020)
Even without long term studies, the pandemic has brought attention to the disparity of access and quality of mental health services to the forefront. This issue is demanding that we pay attention now. The response towards mitigation of the inequities and disparity is a human responsibility. The necessary response should be multifaceted and include considerations from science, faith, lawmakers, trained professionals, spiritual leaders, the right to earn a living wage, the right to be educated, the need for food and shelter, access to technology and healthcare, and so many other basic human rights. It will take a concerted effort by all of us to find solutions.
Technology is playing a major part in the solution towards access to mental health services. Video teleconferencing platforms now provide the access system for people with mental health issues to connect to reliable programs and support systems within the U.S. and the international community. HIPAA compliant platforms that protected the client’s protected health information (PHI) were required in the U.S. prior to the pandemic, but these regulations were relaxed for a period during the emergency. But it is widely believed that this requirement for tele-behavioral health services to be HIPAA compliant will be reinstated, at their discretion, by CMS. VTConnect platform has consistently maintained the HIPAA security requirements for use in the U.S. for secure telehealth.
However, the tool of technology is not enough to mitigate the disparities of mental health services to the under-served. The tools of success include access to reliable broadband internet service, a device such as a cellphone, tablet, or computer to receive the tele-behavioral services, funded quality mental services provided at a sliding scale or for free. Mental health services require funding from governments, non-profits or private enterprises. As a private mental health practitioner, my personal contribution is to offer a certain number of hours per week at a reduced rate or free of charge to clients in need, while balancing my own financial health.
As a company, VTConnect has offered its secure technology platform to practitioners/organizations at a reduced rate or free of charge during crisis in our community. It is our way of being part of the solution. The solutions are multi-faceted and will take innovative ideas, action and resources from individuals, communities, governments and global cooperation to mitigate the mental health crisis due to the pandemic and to address the disparities of access to quality mental health services. Be part of the solution for a mentally healthier human community!
- Martha H. Ireland, Ireland PhD, RN, CS, BC-TMH
Ibia, I. (2020, August 21). Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/itoro.ibia.1
Sandhya Raman, C.-R. C. (2020, August 11). Pandemic's effect on already rising suicide rates. Retrieved from Anchoarge Daily News: https://www.adn.com/nation-world/2020/08/11/pandemics-effect-on-already-rising-suicide-rates-heightens-worry/