COVID19 is having an unprecedented impact on the lives of billions of people. But a robust and effective COVID19 response must not be a vehicle for denying access to essential health care services.
NHeLP is fighting to protect access to the range of critical services that people — especially low-income and historically vulnerable communities — need in order to live their lives. Yes, even in a pandemic. Especially in a pandemic.
For a deeper dive into this topic, check out our blog “During the COVID-19 Pandemic, States Need to Rethink their Delivery of Behavioral Health Services“
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, its impact on our mental health will continue to grow. Fears about COVID-19 and isolation due to necessary physical distancing have been linked to increased stress and worsening of symptoms of anxiety and depression, which in turn often lead to adverse impacts on physical health. And people with serious mental illness are already more likely to have other chronic health conditions associated with increased risk of complications with COVID-19, such as asthma and diabetes. Thus, access to mental health services is crucial to helping people treat and manage their mental health conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Psychiatric hospitals and other mental health facilities face unique challenges in controlling the spread of COVID-19. Like other health care settings, people in these settings often eat and bathe in shared facilities. An added challenge that is unique to behavioral health facilities is that many facilities still rely on restraint, seclusion, and involuntary medication– interventions which, while already dangerous, now have increased risk due to close contact. SAMHSA recommends states and facilities consider restricting inpatient admissions to situations where there is actual risk to life if the person is not hospitalized, increasing reliance on outpatient treatment, and making mental health services available by telehealth whenever possible.
In addition, existing workforce shortages are being further strained as mental health providers are impacted by COVID-19. Access to community based mental health services is also changing. Some services are available through telehealth, such as group sessions now convened over videoconference, and one-on-one services now provided by telephone, online chats, or video. In other cases, states and plans are relaxing prior authorization requirements or refill limits to ensure continued access to prescription medications that treat mental health conditions. It is more important than ever to identify creative solutions to ensure that people have access to the mental health services they need.