April 1, 2020
LiveSafe has always supported and enabled the anonymous reporting of mental health concerns for our corporate and education client communities. And we are proud to have played a central role in saving many lives over the years by being the central community engagement tool that facilitated timely interventions in mental health crises.
Well, providing that capability has taken on an even greater sense of urgency during the current national coronavirus emergency. In fact, a new poll released by the American Psychiatric Association found that more than one-third of Americans (36%) said the uncertainty, anxiety, and stress surrounding the coronavirus outbreak is having a serious impact on their mental health. In addition to being worried about running out of food, medicine, and supplies, two-thirds of Americans (68%) fear that the coronavirus will have a long-lasting impact on the economy.
We explored the impact the crisis is having on the workforce, as well as the implications for employees who are already dealing with underlying clinical mental health challenges, in a live webcast — Protecting Your Workforce’s Mental Health During The Pandemic. Our expert guests included Dr. William Kassler, Chief Medical Officer, Government Health & Human Services, IBM Watson Health, and Carl J. Sheperis, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.
Here are some key takeaways from the live broadcast.
Dr. William Kassler, IBM Watson Health
- One in five American adults (that’s about 44 million people) have a serious mental illness. In the last year, 60% of them couldn’t get treatment for their illness based on stigma and access to providers. Dr. Kassler: “So as we think about the current extraordinary circumstances, they’re profoundly challenged to get treatment. And they’re much more stressed.”
- On fear, resiliency, and self care:
- Fear is natural. Fear is an evolutionary signal that tells us, hey, there’s danger out there, pay attention. Our human cognitive brain comes up with a plan. Once we develop that plan and act on that plan, we can let go of some of our fear.
- Resiliency is our ability or lack of ability to bounce back after a trauma, after a hardship, to adapt to the challenges. And resiliency is something that is not innate and it can be strengthened. We can strengthen our resiliency through a number of very common sense types of activities like exercise, like stress reduction programs, like turning to our faith in our cultural traditions and learning how to re-frame events in the positive.
- It’s important for both companies and for individuals to emphasize self care, getting sleep, eating well, participating in hobbies and activities that you like to maintain some normalcy, looking at stress management and relaxation techniques, getting connected through the internet and making every day meaningful and purposeful.
- Companies are recognizing that if they’re going to care for their employees, they really have to address mental health. It’s as important as physical health.
- Start with culture, treating people with respect and dignity and making sure that there is a culture that does not stigmatize those with mental illness. Then turn to offering specific programs like the employee assistance program, and resiliency apps. These are all really, really important.
- Technology can improve access to care. Remote or virtual visits can really help folks who can’t go out because of distancing, who have transportation challenges, who live in rural areas where there are no providers.
- Trust is also important. It turns out that the anonymity afforded by computers and by those remote interactions allows individuals sometimes to be much more candid and self revealing to a computer than they might be for a person in front of them, judging them. Then we have this whole new idea of health apps that are on our phones and our mobile devices.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) is impacting all of society and has a real potential to add to our ability to treat mental health. First are chat-bots, these automatic conversational algorithms that can actually help individuals remotely. And while those technologies aren’t a substitute for a real live therapist at the other end, they’re getting close to being able to have a role. So pay attention for that. What’s happening now and in commercial products are use of conversational analytics to allow the therapist to get more insight.
- I also practice at a community health center, a safety net provider for the uninsured and underinsured. We are increasingly seeing penetration of cell phones that have internet access or smart phones. And so while there may be less broadband connectivity in people’s homes, more and more I’m seeing access to mobile devices. And so I’m really encouraged by the opportunity if we can curate a set of apps that are effective, safe, and affordable that there may be that opportunity to get some of these technologies out.
Carl Sheperis, Ph.D., Texas A&M University-San Antonio
- The anxiety symptoms we’re seeing now is not just mental health phenomena, they’re real anxiety. They’re tied to what’s happening in the population and what’s happening in the world. And as a result, we have to temper our review of that to some degree and try to differentiate between what is a clinical anxiety level or a clinical depression level and what is a natural response for people.
- We see people trying to make appointments and reporting in with some of those anxiety symptoms like feeling tightness in the chest, which is a symptom of COVID-19. And they’re also experiencing that sense of overwhelming fear. And they’re having some trouble focusing, and they’re coming in because they’re worried about either having the virus or they’re not sure what is going on with them. And it’s ending up being just an anxiety presentation as a result of what’s happening in the community.
- I think from a technology perspective there’s a real positive to the way this is unfolding in that where people may not have known how to make these connections if they weren’t familiar with platforms before, they’re learning. We’re seeing people of all ages learning how to do this right now. And it’s changing the way our society will operate once this pandemic is over. And so I think that there is a positive side to the technology component and how that’s going to unfold for our future.
- Some employees are getting a lot of mandates from leadership about how to increase or maintain productivity while they’re in a remote location. And in a lot of cases, they’re not getting that sense of grace that folks need during this pandemic to get the messaging that helps them to build that community that will help them be productive. So putting in a change management process that really helps your employees to buy into why this community component is so important for mental health and for productivity. And so what I’m seeing is a lot of companies are rolling out products and support services without implementing that change management process that helps the employees understand why it’s important.