Op Ed – May 5, 2020 – by John Barthelmes
New Hampshire Union Leader
THE COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 compares with some of the greatest crises to ever hit the United States and the world community. The economic, social and physical impacts are of historic proportion. New Hampshire has not been spared; for many of us in the Granite State, this has been and will be one of the most disruptive and difficult experiences of our lives.
People are struggling with social distancing and stay at home orders, learning how to connect with friends and family using new and unfamiliar technology, and juggling remote work schedules while home schooling their children. And these are the lucky ones, as many of our neighbors have lost their jobs, had to shutter their businesses, and now face very uncertain economic futures.
What is less obvious and in need of greater attention is the consequence of COVID-19 on our mental and emotional health. The United States has had limited exposure to pandemics, but our experience with large scale natural or man-made disasters tells us they are usually accompanied with increased levels of anxiety, depression and stress. These emotions may be amplified by increased isolation and the feeling of being alone, as we work to slow the spread of disease by staying at home and limiting our interactions with others. Psychological first aid and mental health care will be a critical component of getting New Hampshire and the rest of the world back on its feet in the months and years to come.
The long-term mental health impacts of COVID-19 may not be apparent initially and may take many months to present. It’s important that we act proactively and respond appropriately to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, children, adolescents and people with chronic illness. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified one of the larger segments of this vulnerable population as the 57 million Americans currently living with a mental or substance use disorder. Given the probability the pandemic will not end quickly, New Hampshire and its mental health system must be prepared, resilient and appropriately resourced to meet the expected high and increased demands for mental health services.
Traditional face-to-face therapy and some other in-person delivery of care continue to occur at centers, but those services are increasingly augmented with digital technologies that bridge social distance. Telehealth is now provided on a variety of platforms, including specialized software, smartphones and traditional telephony. This allows adults and children in the community to receive mental health services in a manner which best suits their needs and which helps keep us all safe during this time of pandemic. Expanded telehealth is something that CBHA, the community mental health centers, and other health care providers have supported for years and it is now, during a crisis, that its value has become outstandingly clear.
Telehealth is one area that will grow and improve; we fully expect that there will be additional ways identified as we adapt to this new reality. During this unprecedented time, community mental health centers stand ready to assist those in need and mitigate the consequences of untreated mental health. To learn more about the community mental health system and how to access care at your local center, visit the CBHA website at https://nhcbha.org.