As facilities and state governors press forward to continue normal operations during this Delta surge, is there likely to be an increased need for behavioral health services due to the COVID-19 disease? What strategies can health leaders and psychiatry providers implement to bolster mental health support in the continued challenge?
Behavioral Health Support Needs Due to COVID-19
Only time will tell whether there will be an increased need for mental health services as a result of COVID-19. To explore whether the effects of past crises could help, Jeffrey A. Lieberman, MD, and Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, from Columbia University compared psychological effects of the coronavirus pandemic on society with impacts of outbreaks of Spanish Flu, polio, HIV, Ebola, SARS, MERSA, and Swine Flu, as well as with events like Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, and ultimately, with the Great Depression. Not surprisingly, natural and human-made disasters have resulted in increased rates of suicide, anxiety, substance abuse, PTSD, and depression. (Lieberman and Olfson).
Populations at Increased Risk of Stress from COVID-19
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as Lieberman and Olfson, certain people may be at higher risk of stress due to COVID-19. Therefore, it is critical that behavioral health providers and facilities become attuned to the needs of those who:
- Are healthcare workers, especially those on the frontlines of COVID-19
- Have underlying health conditions
- Have disabilities
- Are older adults
- Are children or adolescents
- Have pre-existing mental health disorders
- Live in lower-income households
- Have language barriers
- Are sick with or have had COVID-19
- Live with someone affected by COVID-19
- Have a family member or close friend who has died of COVID-19
- Reside in high COVID-19 prevalence areas
- Are socially isolated
- Lack access to emotional support
- Experience stigma due to age, race, ethnicity, disability, or perceived likelihood of spreading COVID-19
Strategies for Behavioral Health Professionals and Facility Administrators
Mental health providers and leaders can approach COVID-19 recovery tactfully. These tips, compiled from the American Psychiatric Association (APA), American Psychological Association (APA), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and Columbia University may help as behavioral health professionals customize strategic recovery plans for their own practices:
- Note patients who are at high-risk and be prepared to adjust treatment plans and increase frequency of visits accordingly.
- Determine whether patients’ stress is due to COVID-19 and conduct evaluations using the APA’s specialized guide.
- Recognize that healthcare workers affected by COVID-19 may be dealing with dilemmas around vulnerability to the disease and their call to duty as healers.
- Strengthen the lines of communication between primary care and specialty mental health services to help address emerging mental health needs.
- Establish support groups, implement crisis helplines, expand services, and use telemedicine to increase access to care.
- Consider training medical nurses and social workers in brief evidence-based psychotherapy techniques that can help patients manage complicated grief, adjustment disorders, and mild to moderate depression.
- Become familiar with the updated, state-by-state, APA psychiatric practice guidance for COVID-19 which contains information on financial assistance for practices, telepsychiatry guidelines, licensure flexibility to help alleviate staffing shortages, and more.
- Staff strategically. Consider the nature of your unit and the people you have working there. Balance the need for supervision and care with preventing staff from becoming physically and emotionally burned out.
- Use locums support. Use locums psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, and APPs to bolster staff. Providers may become ill with COVID-19 or may have family members contract the disease. Staff may become stressed and fatigued and may need respite. Prepare for the unexpected by partnering with a trusted locum tenens company.
We’re Here to Help
With forethought and strategic planning for your behavioral healthcare organization, you’ll be well on your way to assisting patients through this time – and that’s a reason for you, your stakeholders, your providers, and your patients to celebrate.
Stay safe and well. Contact us. We’re here to help.