Professionals struggle to connect virtually as mental health declines nationwide
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Editor’s Note: This story contains references to suicide.
During the pandemic, mental health services had to adapt, sometimes taking on a higher workload and switching to virtual counseling.
Anne Reagan, a child psychologist at Upstate University Hospital, has witnessed the effects of COVID-19 on mental health.
âPart of the struggle is that pre-COVID mental health services probably weren’t as robust as they should have been, and then demand increased,â Reagan said.
Reagan and his colleague Robert Gregory, director of the high-risk psychiatry program and professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University, said the hospital was inundated with requests for treatment appointments and hospital visits as patients Anxiety and depression levels were increasing among the residents of Syracuse. . The number of people who may have had suicidal thoughts and attempts has also increased, Gregory said.
Shantel Guzman | Ass. Digital editor
âEven though there has been an increase in services, it is still not quite able to meet the demand,â said Gregory. âWe’ve seen it get pretty tough actually, as the demand for mental health services has skyrocketed. “
Zoom and other online apps have made virtual therapy possible, but Reagan believes it is more difficult to interact with most patients through a screen.
âTherapy is very much about relationships and being in the room with people and personal connections. And so as things opened up I myself was really quick to come back in person as long as we could do it safely, âshe said.
Dominique Walker, a Ph.D. candidate and member of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Syracuse University, said online therapy is a positive turning point in the field.
At the start of the pandemic, accessibility became a challenge for people in the Syracuse community who did not have access to laptops or smartphones, Walker said. But Zoom also offered benefits such as reducing the need to find transportation for appointments.
“It has also become more convenient, because now you no longer need to drive to get to your therapy appointment, you can just log into your computer or smartphone or even call your therapist”, a- she declared.
Walker often feels invisible during her consultations with couples or families, who sometimes forget that she is there in the heat of the moment, she said.
“The hardest part is that you are not in the room so when people react it is very easy for them to step away from the computer screen and there is nothing you can do,” said Walker. âI really had to be assertive, more direct when working with several people, because they can forget that you are there. “
The university hospital has seen more severe cases associated with an increase in mental health issues during the pandemic, Reagan said. But with the threat of COVID-19 transmission looming in hospitals, they have limited visits to acute or chronic cases, moving all other appointments online.
“We know that isolation and disconnection is one of the biggest risk factors for suicide, and so the pandemic was like a perfect storm for that and potentially worsened the problems for people who were already on the edge,” Gregory said.
Restoring connections has been difficult at the University Hospital as more and more people seek mental health services, Reagan said.
Walker attributed this increase in demand for mental health services to increased transparency about mental health, especially during the pandemic.
âPeople now realize that just like you go to the dentist to take care of your teeth, just like you go to the doctor to take care of your physical health, you go to a therapist for your mental health,â he said. she declared. “It’s not that you have to go because something’s wrong or because you’re somehow broken.”
Visit SuicideIsPreventable.org to learn more about the warning signs of suicide and find local resources in your county. If you or someone you know could be at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help.
Posted on September 29, 2021 at 10:48 p.m.
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