Increasing mental health is creating a “shadow pandemic” for patients, doctors

Social isolation and a sense of instability over the past few years have only exacerbated mental health needs in the United States. And doctors are not immune to the pressure the pandemic is putting on people, experts said during a webinar on overcoming barriers to behavioral and health integration (BHI).

During the webinar “Shadow Pandemic: Impact on COVID-19 Mental Health on Patients and the Care Team”, medical experts shared their experiences before and during the pandemic, including how patients’ health needs have changed over time, the challenges that physicians face, solutions to creatively meet patients’ needs and what comes next for patient care. They also stressed that doctors must not forget to acknowledge and note that they too have been affected by the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation.

“Our health workers are really enduring a lot. They are part of the shadow pandemic, “said AMA member Eileen Barrett, MD, MPH, an internal medicine hospital in New Mexico and a contributor to the AMA-Satcher Health Leadership Institute Medical Justice in Advocacy. “Culturally in medicine, it is often difficult for us to take care of each other and also to take care of ourselves.”

Dr. Barrett was joined in the webinar by Stephen O’Connor, Ph.D., Head of the Suicide Prevention Research Program in the Services and Interventions Division of the National Institute of Mental Health, and Sala S. Webb, MD, Ph.D. and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer of OhioRISE, a new health plan for Ohio youth with significant behavioral health needs.

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Mental health management during COVID-19

During the webinar, Dr. Barrett shared five ways in which health leaders can help improve the well-being and mental health of their colleagues:

  • Admit it is a difficult time.
  • Thank people for the work they do in a personal way to help them feel connected.
  • Show your own vulnerabilities and that things can sometimes be difficult.
  • Share support resources available to physicians, including support groups and other opportunities. Make sure you share what’s available in multiple places and have a low entry barrier for people to access help.
  • Talk about things that are difficult – and why they are difficult – but also talk about things that are positive. Share resources, tips and hacks for well-being as much as possible, because not being in a crisis is different from succeeding.

In addition, Dr. Barrett mentioned another way to help physicians seek mental health care is to follow the example of the AMA and others in organized medicine in insisting on removing questions about licensing and certification applications that stigmatize mental health diagnoses or individuals. seeking mental health care.

Read more about how doctors and health systems can reduce the stigma of seeking help.

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How and why to use telehealth to combat the mental health crisis

Integrating behavioral health care – an approach that allows the patient to receive mental health care within the primary care office, whether from a psychiatrist, another mental health professional or a combination through a team-based approach – can help both patients and doctors.

With a shortage of psychiatrists, social workers and other mental health professionals who are only exacerbated by the pandemic, BHI allows patients to have easier access to the mental health care they need. In turn, it helps doctors by:

  • Satisfying the increased needs of patients due to the pandemic and more complete care for the whole patient, increasing professional satisfaction.
  • Reducing administrative complexity for clinicians, making their working lives more enjoyable.
  • Reducing feelings of hopelessness.
  • Helping healthcare professionals take care of each other.

The AMA has established the BHI Collaborative with seven other leading medical associations to help physicians develop practices that can help treat the entire patient.

Resources include the Compendium on the Integration of Behavioral Health, which provides healthcare organizations with a proven track record of providing integrated behavioral care and ensures that they have the latest, most relevant information.

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