By Bernard Freeman
Accessing Telehealth Services
The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of things in health care, including sparking an explosion in telehealth or telemedicine services.
In this way of delivering health care, providers and patients connect via secure software that allows them to chat, video chat and talk via a computer, tablet or smartphone. Patients can connect from their home or office, and providers from theirs. This reduces time off and transportation costs, and, of course, exposure to illness for both patient and provider.
Mental health is one of the areas to see a huge growth in telehealth providers. Many people in the U.S. lack access to adequate mental health services — more than half of U.S. counties have no psychiatrists — and telehealth can help cure that problem.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness said that, because of COVID-19, the federal government and insurance plans expanded access to telehealth services, including mental health, for millions of Americans. The success of telehealth during the pandemic points to a bright future for both providers and patients in the telemedicine space.
“Patients can meet with us in their car on a lunch break, which is wonderful,” Dr. Paula Zimbrean, a Yale Medicine psychiatrist said. “This is all about expanding access, and it achieves that. Plus, there are a lot of follow-up visits that can be done like this, and hopefully elements of telehealth stay with us.”
Telehealth is a remarkable advance in treatment, but it should be noted that it’s not perfect for every situation. For instance, family crises, suspected abuse, suicidal ideation need in-person visits. And some therapeutic techniques don’t translate as well over the screen.
“There’s something called ‘therapeutic silence,’ and it doesn’t feel the same way over a screen,” Yale Child Study Center child psychologist Paige Lembeck said.
But most providers see telehealth as here to stay, even after the pandemic abates.
“It’s much easier for people to schedule a visit and they don’t have to drive there and then wait to be seen,” Yale’s Paul Desan said. “I don’t think the mental health system will ever go back to all in-person sessions as long as the insurers keep paying for it.”
Suicide Warning Signs
Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States.
In 2020, the latest year for which statistics were available, 45,979 Americans died by suicide and there were an estimated 1,200,000 suicide attempts according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, there are 130 suicides per day. Here are some warning signs that you can look for that may prevent one of those deaths.
There are some things that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt or die by suicide, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline says. Those risk factors include:
- Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, such as schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and personality disorders.
- Alcohol and substance abuse disorders.
- Impulsiveness or aggressive tendencies.
- A history of trauma or abuse.
- Major physical illnesses.
- Previous suicide attempts.
- A family history of suicide.
- Job loss or financial loss.
- A loss of relationships.
- Local clusters of suicide.
- A lack of social support and sense of isolation.
- Lack of health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment.
Know the Warning Signs
If you or someone you know exhibits any of these warning signs, seek help immediately. You can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Talking about wanting to die or killing themselves.
- Looking for ways to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs.
- Acting anxious or agitated. Behaving recklessly.
- Sleeping too little or too much.
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
- Extreme mood swings.
In 2022, 988 was designated as a new three-digit calling code that will route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When people call, text or chat 988, they can connect to trained counselors that will listen, provide support and connect them to resources. You will still be able to call (800) 273-8255 at any time, even after 988 is active.
What is Compassion Fatigue?
Compassion fatigue describes the physical, emotional and psychological impact of helping others through experiences of stress or trauma and often taking on some of their trauma yourself, according to WebMD.
After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, mass shootings, natural disasters, war and more, many more people are suffering from this affliction than ever before.
Compassion Fatigue or Burnout
Burnout can be a component of compassion fatigue, according to the American Psychological Association.
For many health care and other frontline workers, their compassion fatigue is often mistaken for burnout. But it’s more specific than that. People aren’t just tired; they’ve mixed in the stress of traumatic events with their own. It’s closely linked to secondary traumatic stress.
All three of these conditions are more likely to impact people in caregiving professions, which can include health and mental health care workers, first responders, legal workers and other service providers.
Signs of Compassion Fatigue
Compassion fatigue at its worst can severely inhibit your ability to do your job or even complete daily activities for yourself. Watch for these symptoms:
- Mood swings, pessimistic thoughts, becoming cynical, overly irritable and quick to anger.
- Detachment and withdrawal from one’s social connections.
- Compassion fatigue is increasingly linked with self-medication and addiction.
- Feelings of anxiety or depression.
- Trouble concentrating or remembering details.
- Experiencing lack of sleep or exhaustion.
- Changes in appetite and digestive issues.
Compassion fatigue can be overwhelming. If you notice your symptoms interrupting your life and your ability to work, talk to your doctor. You may be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist specializing in trauma.
While the right treatment depends on your own experience, some common treatments include:
- Improved selfcare, such as taking the time to eat well, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, exercise and relax.
- Talking to a therapist or psychiatrist, particularly one who specializes in trauma.
You may also want to discuss your feelings with your supervisor and co-workers. You’re probably not the only one feeling this way, and it’s possible that your workplace may be able to take steps to lighten your load. Having a sense of community can also help you heal and prevent any further bouts of compassion fatigue.
“It may not sound fancy or sophisticated, but building community is the most powerful thing you can do,” said Geoffry White, a psychologist who worked to prevent compassion fatigue in mental health practitioners responding after terrorism and war, to the American Psychological Association. “Compared with other societies, the United States has a very mind-your-own business culture, prizing independence and self-reliance over community. But anything that takes away from that isolation — peer support — will help.”