Telehealth may ease mental health burden from COVID-19
Providing mental health support through telehealth*, or telemental health services, is imperative to help patients, family members, and healthcare providers reduce the burden of comorbid mental health conditions and safeguard their psychological welfare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The absence of a cure and the increasing spread rates of COVID-19 have driven people to develop psychological symptoms such as fear of exposure, anxiety-driven panic buying, depression, paranoia, and stress about health and income.1 Therefore, the authors underlined the importance of recognizing the psychological impact of this pandemic. [Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2020;doi.org/10.1111/pcn.12988]
“The provision of mental health support … will likely help patients maintain psychological well-being and cope with acute and postacute health requirements more favourably,” said Xiaoyun Zhou from the Centre for Online Health at the University of Queensland in Queensland, Australia, in an article. [Telemed J E Health 2020;doi:10.1089/tmj.2020.0068]
Isolation: From public health strategy to potential mental risk?
“[However, the] challenge is to provide mental health services in the context of patient isolation,” noted the authors. Isolation has been one of the primary global interventional responses to stem the spread of COVID-19. However, this has curbed access to normal social support systems, thus leading to loneliness and potential worsening of psychological symptoms, noted Zhou and co-authors.
Left untreated, these symptoms may lead to long-term health repercussions, consequently requiring additional treatment that would amplify the cost burden of managing the current illness, they added.
The burden of psychological distress also extends to the clinical front, given the longer and gruelling work hours necessary. Apart from heightening their exposure to COVID-19, the burnout and the need for sick or stress leave would undermine the capacity of the health system to provide services during the crisis, noted the authors. [Gen Hosp Psychiatry 2009;31:316-317]
Communication is key
Therefore, treatment protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic should well address both the physiological and psychological needs of both patients and healthcare providers. Communication portals may be used as a gateway for procuring information on coping mechanisms from online self-help programmes.
“Communication of all health needs is important when patients [need] to be isolated. We support the use of telehealth as a valuable way of supporting both physical and psychosocial needs of all patients irrespective of geographical location,” said the authors.
In China, government efforts are geared towards providing counselling, supervision, training, and psychoeducation through online platforms.2 These services are proactively targeting those at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure (eg, patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and their families, frontliners). [Lancet Psychiatry 2020;7:e17-e18] “Early reports [have shown] how people in isolation actively sought online support to address mental health needs, which demonstrated both a population interest and acceptance of this medium,” noted the authors.
“[During this pandemic,] we should also be cognizant of the impact on mental health, both on a short- and long-term basis,” they said. Telehealth is perfectly suitable for this situation by providing access to important services among individuals in isolation without jeopardizing health, they added.