This is Coping with COVID-19, a weekly series of blog posts and videos dedicated to sharing tips for coping with stress and anxiety during the coronavirus crisis. Your mental health matters now more than ever.
“Stay at home? That sounds great!” This is not an exact quote from one of my patients but it does capture the spirit of several patients, as a result of the stay-at-home orders during COVID-19. For some with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses, home is a safe haven from the outside world but it can also be a trap that can lead to symptoms getting worse.
“This last week has felt like a year.” Other patients with the same illnesses find staying at home a slow torture. This could be because home is not a safe place or because they know that contact with others, including friends, family, support groups and professional caregivers is crucial to their well-being.
In both cases, the ability to continue to manage one’s mental health is even more important during these uncertain times. Thankfully, we live in an age where technology allow us to connect with others in a variety of ways. However, getting used to a new way of accessing mental health care can be difficult. I am currently “seeing” patients via telehealth (both by phone sessions and over videoconference). I was somewhat resistant to this format initially because I do believe in-person appointments are more therapeutic. However, not having treatment at all is even worse. So, here are some ways to make your phone or videoconference sessions with your providers more supportive and productive:
Find out the options from your provider. What are they offering instead of in-person visits? All providers should at least be able to conduct sessions over the phone. You should also know, in case your provider does not, that insurance companies, including Medicare, have waved the usual HIPPA requirements for videoconferencing and are temporarily reimbursing at in-person rates in almost all cases. This means that more general use videoconference options like FaceTime are fine to use during this period and your provider should get paid the same rate.
Acknowledge the awkwardness of the new format. It is likely your provider is feeling the same way so say something! You will both probably feel better having talked about it and it can open up discussions about other adjustments you are making in your life.
Try to establish a routine with your appointments as you did when you were going to your provider’s office in person. Keeping a consistent day and time each week can help you feel some sense of normalcy in a time where that is a rare commodity.
Don’t give up on your treatment! These are difficult times for those suffering from mental illnesses but don’t make it worse by shutting yourself off from your providers.