Increasing access to mental health support

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Our mental health has taken a beating this year. One of many ripple effects from COVID-19 is the toll that living through a pandemic has taken on people’s emotional, psychological and social wellbeing.

Whether it’s stress from the blurring boundaries between work and home life, a sense of longing from not being able to see loved ones, financial anxiety from losing a job or severe mental health and substance abuse disorders, coronavirus has impacted our mental wellbeing in many personal and profound ways.

The immediate mental health effects of the pandemic are staggering. A June 2020 survey of U.S. adults from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 40.9% reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse, with rates 3–4 times higher than last year. Even more startling: 10.7% reported seriously considering suicide in the last 30 days – and that number was significantly higher among young adults (25.5%), Hispanics (18.6%) and other racial and ethnic minorities (15.1%) and essential workers (21.7%) (for more on supporting essential workers, see Employee wellness tips for healthcare workers.)

The ripple effect doesn’t stop there: chronic stress and other mental health conditions can trigger or exacerbate physical health issues, such as heart disease, gastrointestinal issues and autoimmune disorders, compounding health and wellbeing challenges. Just at the time when demand for mental health support is increasing, access to traditional resources such as counseling, psychotherapy, harm reduction services and many medicines has been hampered. A recent World Health Organization survey found the pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide. The issue is particularly challenging for minority groups (for more on the impact on black, Asian and ethnic minority healthcare issues, see COVID-19: What the looming mental health crisis means for health inequalities).

Fortunately, one “positive” from the past few months is an elevated dialogue about the importance of mental health. More people are talking about mental health concerns and more companies are innovating ways to support people’s total wellbeing than ever before.

Health tech brands are playing an important role in increasing access to mental health support resources, but there are challenges and considerations to build credibility and be seen as trustworthy providers of information and support. It’s also important to consider how to ensure technology offers responsible solutions when digital overload may be playing a role in mental health challenges (for more on these considerations, see Constructing a healthy digital world).

Yet despite the many challenges relating to physical and mental health in 2020, there are also success stories to share, from advocacy groups coming together on shared initiatives, to pharmaceutical and device companies creating new initiatives to support patients, to health tech companies that are helping drive awareness for mental health issues and improving outcomes for people around the world. It’s important to communicate, recognize and celebrate these successes and learn from them in future more ‘settled’ times as well.

Looking to create, or share, successful initiatives to support people with mental or physical health challenges? We’re here to help!

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We know there are numerous considerations when it comes to the impact of COVID-19 and what this means for your organization. We are here to help.