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Even in pre-pandemic times, the holiday season was prone to familial tension, financial stress and oftentimes, feelings of loneliness and isolation. With the added layer of COVID-19 stress this year, especially around limited holiday visits and travel, it is likely that typical wintertime stressors will be intensified. That is why this holiday season, health care providers need to take the extra time to screen and speak with patients about their mental health status.
COVID-19 on the Hierarchy of Mental Health Needs
“During this time of year, patients’ mental health begins to deteriorate from the stress of taking on too much,” said Allen Fleischmann, MSW, ACSW, LCSW, a therapist at Inspira Health. “For example, it starts with family event obligations, not having enough money for the gift they want to give and perhaps the grief of losing a loved one around the holidays. Then coupling these stressors with the colder weather and shorter daytime hours, any existing feelings of sadness, depression and anxiety are exacerbated.”
Physiological, safety and social needs are the three foundational layers of mental health. However, the ongoing pandemic threatens these rudimentary building blocks thanks to long periods of isolation and feeling disconnected from others.
“In March, people were told we just needed two weeks to flatten the curve. And now, it’s for the foreseeable future,” said Fleishmann. “People are realizing we aren’t going to have the traditional holidays we imagined, and because of that, we are beginning to see a decline in people’s mental health.”
How Patients Are Coping with COVID-19
Every patient’s mental health journey is different, which is why detecting and identifying mental health disorders can be difficult. It’s important for all health care providers to be aware of a few key signs of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
“Sleep problems, fatigue, tiredness, stomach pains, panic attacks, migraines and headaches are just a few of the symptoms a patient might complain about not knowing that really, these issues are connected to their mental health,” said David Moore, R.N., M.S.N., BC, executive director of Mental Health Services at Inspira Health. “Not to mention that October through December is filled with simple carbs, sugar and white flour—three ingredients famous for delicious holiday treats and infamous for unhealthy eating habits that augment any and all issues associated with declining mental health.”
When it comes to assessing your patients’ mental health, the first step should always be to create a welcoming and safe space. Patients will often feel guilty for or be unaware of the state of their mental health. But just one conversation could lead to a more positive and constructive lifestyle.
Mental Health Support Right in South Jersey
At Inspira, patients have access to a comprehensive, integrated mental health program right in their own community. Ranging from inpatient, outpatient and now virtual telehealth appointments, Inspira’s Behavioral Health and Addiction Services has adapted to not only the “new normal” of COVID-19, but also to more convenient pathways for patients to receive the care they need and deserve this holiday season.
“We are able to start helping our patients the second their provider calls our hotline, speaks to one of our counselors or visits our page on Inspira’s website,” said Moore. “Currently, we have office staff at all of our locations waiting to connect referred patients to the specialists they need. We’ve also adapted to the current climate by creating a virtual intake form that patients can complete from any device.”
Another advantage to patients seeking behavioral health services is the ability to access therapists and behavioral specialists from the comfort of their own home with Inspira’s newly implemented telehealth services. Additionally, unlike other “online” services, patients at Inspira can feel comfortable knowing that their insurance—if they have it—is accepted in this new, virtual program.
“While some prefer to come into the office, the majority of our patients have adapted to the virtual landscape. After downloading Microsoft Teams—which is HIPAA compliant and has end-to-end encryption—on their Mac, Windows, iOS or Android device, patients log into their scheduled meeting with the link they received via email that day,” said Fleischmann. “Especially during this season, planning around the known challenges, like having lost a family member during the holidays, is vital. We’ve had patients say, ‘Yes, the holidays were hard, but it could have gone a whole lot worse,’ had it not been for the plan they created with our team.”