COVID-19 got you down? Technology can help manage your mental health
Living through a pandemic can wreak havoc on our mental health. But technology offers possible solutions for those struggling with depression and anxiety
Terms like quarantine, social distance and pandemic are enough to make anyone feel anxious. And while maintaining a 6-foot isolation bubble around us is good for lowering the spread of COVID-19, it can also make people feel isolated and lonely.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed more than 5,000 American adults and found that symptoms of anxiety and depression went way up between April and June this year compared to the same months last year. In fact, approximately four times the amount of people reported they were depressed in 2020 over 2019.
Among those surveyed, 10% said they had “seriously considered” suicide in the past 30 days. One-fourth of young people ages 18-24 admitted the same. Certainly, some groups seemed harder hit than others. The largest group (30%) saying they had considered suicide in the past month were unpaid caregivers of adults. The CDC wrote “many of whom are currently providing critical aid to persons at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.” Nearly 22% of essential workers also reported suicidal thoughts.
With this survey showing 40% of U.S. adults saying they are struggling with mental health or substance use, researchers wondered whether social isolation, absence of school structure, unemployment and other financial worries acted as additional stressors during this time.
The CDC offered telehealth as an “effective means of delivering treatment for mental health conditions” saying it “might reduce COVID-19-related mental health consequences.”
In March, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would expand what Medicare would pay for regarding virtual visits. By adding payment approval for doctors, clinical psychologists and licensed clinical social workers for everyone, patients no longer had to live in the middle of nowhere to take advantage of e-visits.
If you aren’t yet insured by Medicare, check with your mental health care provider and your insurance company to see what telehealth benefits you might have.
Not everyone feels comfortable visiting with a doctor about their mental health and it may be cost prohibitive for some. Mobile apps offer convenient ways of practicing strategies learned in face-to-face therapy.
Sanvello has more than three million people using the app for self-care, peer support, coaching and therapy. The app offers daily mood tracking, guided journeys and coping tools to manage stress, anxiety and depression. You can talk with coaches trained in cognitive behavioral therapy or join live video group classes. In many states, the app can connect you with a therapist or psychiatrist for telehealth sessions.
Youper is an app that connects you with a virtual “emotional health assistant” who communicates via text messages to ask about your thought patterns and behaviors. The app uses artificial intelligence to understand your emotions and walk you through techniques like meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy. A team of doctors, therapists and engineers created the app which claims 80% of users feel better after one conversation.
You may have “Zoom fatigue” already, but getting on a videoconference call with family and friends can boost your mood. A study from Oregon Health and Science University found that adults over age 60 who used video chat applications had almost half the risk of depression. In the survey, researchers found that using email, texting and social media had little effect in boosting spirits. But Skype and FaceTime seemed to hold the key to helping alleviate depressive symptoms.
“It was consistently the case that using video chat lowered rates of depression,” according to Dr. Alan Teo, associate professor of psychiatry at OHSU. “The savvy use of technology and video chat that is as close to mimicking face-to-face contact as we can, that is the gold standard here,” he wrote.
A little sunlight (or a close imitation) could also help cure your bad mood. Research from the National Institutes of Health has shown that sunlight has a direct effect on mood and can reduce depressive feelings. We’ve already been quarantining and spending more time indoors than usual, and now with winter coming and the accompanying shorter and cloudier days, we may need a little help to brighten our days. The National Sleep Foundation suggests getting outside or even investing in a light therapy box. These gadgets mimic outdoor light, and using it for 20 minutes each morning can cause a chemical change in the brain to lift your mood.
Talk with your doctor about choosing the best one for you since those managing bipolar disorder or eye problems like glaucoma or cataracts may need special consideration.
While these tech helps can make a difference, those having serious thoughts of harming themselves should seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers confidential support 24/7 online or at 1-800-273-8255.