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Life during a pandemic has even the most resilient drowning in new levels of stress. The sudden and growing need for care has left mental health providers overwhelmed. One problem: There aren’t enough therapists to go around. “Demand has increased substantially for American mental health, and our supply hasn’t changed in a meaningful way,” says Ken Duckworth, CMO for NAMI. “It’s not really a system,” he says of the U.S. mental health infrastructure. “It’s a patchwork quilt of individuals and well-meaning policy people trying to provide large numbers of services to large numbers of people in a payment structure that is varied and complex. It’s quite a challenge.”
Reports on how telemedicine and teletherapy coverage has been broadly expanded amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts are now increasingly recommending turning to telehealth, including telemedicine and teletherapy, as the first option for most non-emergency care. Last week was “the biggest week in telehealth policy in American history,” says Dr. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer of NAMI.
An ABC News/Washington Post survey found that 70% of people were experiencing stress as a result of the new coronavirus outbreak. That compares to the March 2009 peak of 61% reporting stress during the last recession. Dr. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer of NAMI, told Newsweek "a lot of people" are calling the helpline at the moment. Duckworth said those with existing mental health problems are now dealing with the added stress related to the coronavirus pandemic and the myriad problems stemming from it.
Reports that crisis intervention organizations across the nation have seen a dramatic surge in people seeking mental-health services as anxiety grows about the coronavirus pandemic. “Many people are feeling anxiety or fear, or an acute sense of vulnerability if you happen to have respiratory vulnerability or are immunocompromised,” Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer of NAMI, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. The Crisis Textline has seen a 116% spike in the volume of texts received in the last week due to coronavirus.
During his daily press briefing on COVID-19 in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo took a moment to focus on an often-forgotten aspect of the pandemic: mental health. Cuomo announced that 6,175 mental health professionals have signed up to provide free online mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. "This is increased anxiety for everyone," said Dr. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer of NAMI.
Every day the news sounds overwhelming. And staying at home might worsen symptoms of loneliness or depression. “People want to get support during this very tumultuous time,” Dr. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer at NAMI told TODAY. “Everybody is vulnerable to (COVID-19). There's no population that is immune to this. It’s important to keep in mind that we're all in this together and you're not alone.”
Dr. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer, provides an on-air interview for the BBC World News London evening edition on coping with physical distancing and social isolation due to COVID-19.
Mental health problems such as anxiety and depression are likely to spike among Americans in the coming weeks because of the uncertainty created by the pandemic. Experts, however, are particularly worried about people who are predisposed to depression and anxiety. NAMI recommends maintaining a sense of normality and routine that mirrors life’s daily patterns and practices.
In the face of indefinite isolation, contagion, financial uncertainty, and with no return to normality in sight, coronavirus is taking its toll on our collective mental health. “If you’re losing sleep over what’s happening or you’re unable to concentrate on anything other than the risk...you should probably consider [lowering] your dose of media to once a day,” says Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of NAMI. Exercise and helping others may also give you a happiness boost and sense of purpose.
An estimated 1 in 5 people in the U.S. suffer from mental illness, and 1 in 25 from severe mental illness, according to NAMI. "If you already have an anxiety disorder...or unstable housing, or you're already isolated, this is going to compound your problems," said Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of NAMI. "Even though we are distancing ourselves physically, we should not be distancing ourselves socially...this collective crisis should bring people together in spirit and support if not in proximity," Katherine Ponte, NAMI-NYC board member said.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741