My sense is that the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health community, families and professionals is profound. While I am not an expert on the coronavirus, I do know about the power of community. Keeping our distance from one another and from the virus may keep us physically safer but may also affect our ability to support one another as a healing community.
I hosted a call today, Friday, March 13th at noon EDT, in the hopes of fostering dialogue about what we can do to replace new anxieties with understanding and to identify the key mental health issues that need to be addressed. We invited our mailing list to the call and 10 people joined, discussing the points outlined below.
We will be hosting a repeat community forum again on Friday, March 20th at 12:00 PM EDT via Zoom. You are welcome to join the call via this link.
Some of the topics we discussed today (several of them positive):
One outpatient practice spoke of the fact that “social distancing” is much better than having to go into quarantine. For example, they have converted all of their group therapy sessions to online experiences instead of face-to-face in a room. This “social distancing” is much better than if one person in the group has been shown to have the virus and, therefore, all members of the group would had to have gone into a quarantine situation.
We also heard about a counterintuitive effect on people with chronic suicidal ideation; as they try to think about surviving the pandemic, this provides a therapeutic moment for them during which they think more positively about their lives.
We also discussed the logistics of managing residential treatment situations, such as how to assess incoming residents for presence of the virus, how to deal with current residents who test positive, and how to manage a program if an inordinate number of staff are out of work. You can’t run a residential program from home.
Some psychiatric hospitals being maxed out.
Some people with OCD are suffering even more because of not being able to find hand sanitizers.
Some people are changing their decisions to seek admission to a particular treatment program because they did not want to fly.
Program leaders are worrying about how to operate if too many staff members are sickened.
Some people are feeling paranoia, being triggered by images of the lurking virus.
The group indicated that they would like to continue and some indicated they felt these would be beneficial conversations both regarding content as well as the feeling of connection that the sessions provide.
In this hour-long conversation, I will invite you to send in questions or identify issues by ‘chat’. Up to 100 people can join anonymously. If the number of attendees is smaller, I may be able to have open dialogue with you including audio. We may also schedule future, repeat calls. My hope is that we will find solace in learning how others are identifying and working on the emerging issues. If you wish, please send me an email in advance about COVID-19 concerns that are arising for you either as a family coping with mental illness or as a professional who is trying to serve. There are more questions than answers at this time but I think we will be stronger if we can share our thinking and be less isolated. Wishing you good health, Virgil Stucker