The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has not only put a strain on our healthcare systems, but also on the people’s minds. As of now, most of us have to endured prolong social-isolation as an effort to stop the virus from spreading within the community; uncertainties resulted from business closure and the bleak economy, as well as news that are feeding the public with tragic headlines and discouraging figures. Human are social animals and naturally, restricting our movements and routines are taking a toll on our mental health too.
We may be living in stressful times but support are available
In Italy, a nurse Daniela Trezzi had committed suicide because she had to work while being ill and she was afraid she might have infected patients in the process (although the local health authority later confirmed she was not tested positive for coronavirus). In Germany, the finance minister of the state of Hesse Thomas Schäfer also took his life as he was concerned over the economic impact of the pandemic. In the US, 36% of its people said the pandemic has a serious impact on their mental health and 31% are suffering from related anxiety.
On 17 March, the Trump Administration announced the coverage of Medicare will be expanded for providers that are using telehealth-based services; this includes mental health counselling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had also recommended those with pre-existing mental health conditions to continue treatments while the Drug Enforcement Administration is making it easier to e-prescrib of some controlled substances, including drugs targeting at mental health conditions.
In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) England published a guidance on the mental health and wellbeing aspect of coronavirus on 29 March. Because on the same week, 62% of British expressed they are finding it harder to stay positive about the future as compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic. People seems to be struggling with their emotions the way they are struggling with the economy.
The many types of digital mental health support
Three providers had agreed to make four of their mental health applications free to all National Health Service (NHS) England staff until the end of this year. This is to support healthcare workers’ overall wellbeing as they work non-stop under tremendous pressure to treat and care for coronavirus patients in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The applications include Unmind, a platform which helps to better manage stress, sleep and nutrition. Headspace, which aims to minimize stress and enhance resilience through mindfulness and meditation, Sleepio, a clinically examined sleep improvement program and Daylight, which assists in the management of anxiety and worry via a cognitive behavioral technique.
Besides, some popular medication applications such as Calm has come up with an online hub, coupled with content ranging from sleep stories, music, and mindful and medication techniques. They also planned to livestream anxiety-reducing meditations over time.
Apart from stress and sleep management and medication applications, digital mental health support also comes in the form of chatbots. Some, like artificial intelligence (AI) powered “Tess” developed by the X2 Foundation termed itself as a virtual friend which renders users solutions around pandemic anxiety and isolation wellness. The creator of Tess told Recode the number of users talking about coronavirus since Mid-March had went up 20 times within a week.
Nevertheless, some experts do warned the differences between applications, chatbots and actual in-person mental health care like having a live video chat with a trained therapist. Users, especially those who are most affected, should know the differences between these digital mental health support. They should bare in mind that regardless of how useful some of these digital services may appear to be, they can never replace a formal, counselling session and/or medications.