May is Mental Health Month in the United States, and Axxess joins the national movement to promote the importance of mental health. Throughout the month of May, organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) run campaigns dedicated to increasing mental health awareness, providing tools to support mental wellness, eliminating stigma surrounding mental illness, and advocating for access to mental healthcare and treatment.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic introduced a new element to this year’s Mental Health Month. The outbreak has had severe psychosocial impacts on our communities, and many mental health professionals believe that these impacts are only beginning.
As Mental Health Month 2020 comes to an end, we encourage you to continue prioritizing your mental health and checking on the mental wellness of others, especially as we all cope with uncertainty in the current environment.
COVID-19 and Mental Health
The COVID-19 crisis amplified feelings of loneliness, isolation, worry and distress for many people. A recent poll found that people are increasingly reporting negative effects on mental health as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The poll revealed that more than four in ten adults feel that worry and stress related to COVID-19 have had negative impacts on their mental health, and an extensive body of research traces significant links between social isolation and poor mental health.
Many institutions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have answered the demand for information and resources on how to manage stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 crisis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide with useful information on staying mentally healthy in the current environment. Mental Health America also provides a library of resource links to helpful information on mental health.
Tips and strategies from these resources are outlined below to help healthcare providers accommodate mental health needs as they deliver care to our most vulnerable populations during and after the pandemic.
Mental Health Best Practices for Care Providers
To deliver care that effectively supports mental health alongside physiological wellness, healthcare providers should:
- Talk to patients about mental health.
Healthcare providers should discuss mental health with patients on an ongoing basis. On every visit, ask the patient how s/he is feeling and listen for any indications of emotional or psychological distress.
- Be familiar with signs and symptoms of poor mental health.
In addition to speaking openly and regularly with patients about mental health, healthcare providers should be familiar with common symptoms and warning signs of poor or declining mental health. Common symptoms include intense worrying or fear, excessive sadness, confused thinking, difficulty concentrating, multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (ongoing aches and pains), and inability to carry out daily activities. Care providers should be able to identify when symptoms are present and help patients find resources to remedy them appropriately.
- Help patients connect with family and friends.
Ensure that patients have phone numbers and ways to reach family and friends, and help patients identify ways to virtually connect with others from home, including phone calls, text messages, social media or video chat. For populations at high risk of experiencing mental health issues, including older adults, people who live alone and people with preexisting mental illness, consider facilitating a check-in system where family members or friends regularly check in with a phone call or text to lessen feelings of loneliness and make sure the individual is safe.
- Establish procedures for anyone who shows severe distress or expresses the desire to self-harm or hurt others.
An integral piece of emergency preparedness planning involves outlining procedures to support patients who show severe distress. Healthcare organizations should establish specific protocols for handling critical interactions with patients and connecting distressed individuals to mental healthcare or treatment resources as needed.
- Take care of your mental health.
The COVID-19 crisis puts a substantial burden on healthcare systems and adds to the already high stress and burnout rates among healthcare professionals. To appropriately care for others, healthcare providers must take care of themselves and their own mental health first. Practice self-care activities regularly and remember to reach out and ask for help when you need it. If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with the impacts of COVID-19, help is available 24/7.
Help in a Crisis
If you or someone you know is experiencing sadness, depression, anxiety or other feelings of distress, call the Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or text TALKWITHUS to 66746.