COVID-19 Has Taken a Toll: Behavioral Health Providers Can and Must Play an Important Role in Healing

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by Dr. Lisa Latts, MD


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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As we exit the global pandemic, there is no doubt that the stress and uncertainty of the past year has contributed negatively to our mental health and wellness. How that stress impacted each one of us varies in severity and it’s important to recognize that today—a little over a year from the onset of COVID’s arrival in Colorado—we are still dealing with some of those effects. In fact, for most of us, our mental health has suffered. Behavioral health providers can and must play an important role in our healing.

The shutdown and the consequences of the stay-at-home order caused immediate stress. For some of us, income, housing, and food availability was in-question seemingly overnight. Many of us were also trying to hold down a job and work from home, while simultaneously crisis-schooling our children. Far too many times, a loved one fell ill, or succumbed to coronavirus. All of us experienced the anxiety of an unknown future. We were even worried about where we would get our next roll of toilet paper! There is no question that the stress induced from the immediacy of the shutdown and COVID restrictions caused symptoms of depression, contributed to substance use problems and catalyzed acute mental health needs. In fact, a study released by Mental Health America last year reported that the number of people reporting anxiety and depression was at an all-time high in September of 2020.

As an optimist, one silver lining from the pandemic was normalizing discussions about mental health. All of a sudden, neighbors, colleagues, teenagers, and parents began to talk to one another about stress, depression, and anxiety. We began to share our mutual concern about the growing potential of suicide, substance abuse and addiction within our communities. Like the “lasagna lady,” we began to help lonely neighbors and take care of those in need. Acceptance became part of the conversation because we were all experiencing mental health stresses, which in turn fostered better understanding and empathy for our neighbors, friends and colleagues.

Experiences like the pandemic often help grow resiliency muscles. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back after experiencing a hardship. As hard as this has been for many of us, we are finding the way forward and seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Just when we didn’t think we could survive another minute, we did, and we adapted. Some of us are even thriving. We have learned through this experience to prioritize what’s most important, and that includes our mental health.

Experiences like the pandemic often help grow resiliency muscles.

While life may slowly be getting back to normal, the trauma and the anxiety triggered or worsened by this crisis remain for many people. Professional help is an important component of healing and thriving for those whose conditions are more severe or not getting better.

The good news is that obtaining behavioral health care has never been easier. There are new options to connect with a provider in person, via telehealth or even communicate through an app! Your primary care clinician can be a great first stop in getting help. Often primary care clinicians have behavioral health specialists either within, or closely tied to, their office and should include your emotional well-being in your routine check-up. Your health insurance carrier can also help you identify behavioral health specialists in your network, or a primary care clinician if you don’t currently have one. The Mayo Clinic has an excellent resource titled Mental Health Professionals | Tips on Finding One on their website. This resource outlines the types of providers and their training including whether they can prescribe medication or not.

If you or a loved one is struggling with how to tell someone “I’m not okay” and are interested in getting help from a professional, a useful checklist to “Start the Conversation” is available online. This resource has been created by the American Academy of Family Physicians and can be a simple way to help you communicate with your clinician.

Starting the conversation about issues with mental health or substance use is not easy, but COVID has taught us that mental health is critical to our overall wellbeing. Mental health must become part of our daily habits of care. Now more than ever, we understand the importance of taking care of our mental wellness through meaningful connection— connection to resources, providers, and each other to heal and thrive.

Dr. Lisa Latts, MD serves as the Chief Medical Officer for Rocky Mountain Health Plans. She is an active clinician, practicing high risk pregnancy at the University of Colorado as an internal medicine trained physician.

If you or a loved one needs immediate support, the Colorado Crisis Services provides professional support 2/47. Call 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255.

Do you need health insurance? Connect for Health Colorado offers health insurance for individuals on Colorado’s insurance exchange and also offers customer service support to help you navigate your options. Visit their website or reach out for assistance at 1-855-752-6749.