Through a long, ongoing quarantine, one of the biggest concerns for healthcare providers isn’t just the spread of COVID-19, but the mental health of the public.
Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody is Chair of the Department of Psychiatry in the UNC School of Medicine. She also serves as the Director for the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders.
Meltzer-Brody said finding some semblance of normalcy amid the pandemic is going to be important for people’s mental health as we continue move forward.
“The COVID pandemic is going to be simmering along for a while,” Meltzer-Brody said. “It has not gone away. The re-opening does not mean it has gone away. On the other hand, people cannot be locked in their house for the next couple of years, and so we all have to figure out what is going to be the middle ground.”
Meltzer-Brody said the question we need to ask ourselves is “How do we go about our lives in a way that preserves our mental health while ensuring we are doing everything we can to protect our safety and that of our neighbors?”
With increased levels of anxiety and depression as a byproduct of the pandemic, she said one good thing that has come from this newfound isolation are the various mental health resources now available to the general public – resources like telehealth and telepsychiatry.
“The insurance companies are paying for people to use telepsychiatry,” Meltzer-Brody said. “That was not the case prior to the pandemic so that is one of the interesting innovations that the pandemic has brought to us. So, that means you can be in your home and you can get mental health care widely via telepsychiatry. So we really encourage people to reach out for support.”
This option for telehealth has been especially helpful for essential workers, those who live in rural areas and people who may not normally have easy access to receive the support they need.
“The reality is, that right now with telehealth – people who have jobs that are not forgiving – if you’re an essential worker and you work in a place that is not kind with saying ‘I need to take the afternoon off to go to a doctor’s appointment’ and your mental health provider appointment will cause you to miss an entire day of work to drive three hours and back, you could literally go sit in a car in a parking lot wherever you work and have your appointment at lunchtime,” Meltzer-Brody said.
Meltzer-Brody said when options like these are available, it’s important to get the proper emotional and mental support you need versus trying to self-medicate at home.
“We know that alcohol sales are up 60 percent so people are going to find one way or another to cope and it can be either constructive or it can be really maladaptive,” Meltzer-Brody said. “We don’t want people to take out their stress by having a lot of conflict in the household or drinking excessively. We don’t want people suffering in silence.”
And for families and parents that have had to balance working full time jobs, educating their children and coping with the pandemic, Meltzer-Brody said to be gentle with yourself and reset your expectations.
“So we have to start with expectations about ‘good enough’ – people really thinking that they are not going to be able to do everything they want but what’s going to be good enough today and to be very kind to themselves and others around them.” Meltzer-Brody said.
Finally, if you are feeling new mental health concerns that have been exacerbated during this time of uncertainty, Meltzer-Brody said you’re not alone, and there is help if you need it.
“People have to know they are not alone in this and that it’s not that they’re doing something wrong and it’s not that they’re not strong enough,” Meltzer-Brody said. “Making people aware that they are not alone and that it can have felt very traumatic and that what they’re experiencing puts them in very good company and that there is something that we can do about it. Opening up those lines of communication is vital.”
To learn more about UNC’s telepsychiatry services, you can visit the Department of Psychiatry’s website here.