As our country wages war against the coronavirus (COVID-19), millions of Americans are fighting their own battles against the isolation, stress, health concerns and economic strain that have been a large part of the past few weeks for many of us.
Sheltering in place, wearing masks and physical distancing is starting to make a difference to flatten the curve and slow the rate at which the first wave of COVID-19 spreads. But it’s also shining a light on many of the flaws in our current system.
Even before COVID-19 took over the daily headlines our country was having a mental health and addiction crisis, according to Tyler Norris, MDiv, CEO of Well Being Trust. Well Being Trust is a national non-profit foundation launched by Providence in 2016 that is dedicated to advancing the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation.
Social and health-related factors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are creating the perfect breeding ground for a “second curve” of health issues.
Norris says the economic, social and health-related factors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are creating the perfect breeding ground for a “second curve” of health issues. Only this time our mental health is what’s at risk. Rising unemployment, increased social isolation and sky-high stress levels may trigger anxiety, panic and addiction for many people. And our country may not be ready.
Related to the socioeconomic health issues that this pandemic will exacerbate, Norris said in a recent podcast, “COVID is the great unmasker. It is the great revealer of all the things—the health inequities across the country that disproportionately impact the poor, the elderly, communities of color, immigrants—who we need to fold in like the part of the great American family they are.”
Making the situation even more challenging is the public charge rule. Under this rule, immigrants to the United States who are classified as likely or liable to use public assistance, like Medicaid, Section 8 housing or food stamps, may be denied visas, citizenship or permission to enter the country.
“If you are low income and have limited resources and support, they view you as the public charge,” said Dr. Rhonda Medows, president of population health at Providence in a recent video that explains the new rules.
“Our biggest concern is that with this rule being implemented locally, people will fear that it’s just a tool to identify them for deportation and avoid seeking care,” Dr. Medows explained in a recent blog article. “We do not want people to fall between the cracks and not receive help with their health and wellbeing.”
Healing the Nation
Addressing the second curve of mental health issues requires meaningful, actionable strategies that recognize the importance of mental health issues and provide a wide range of services and solutions that offer real help for the very real problems that exist.
Earlier this year, Well Being Trust released the report, Healing the Nation: Advancing Mental Health and Addiction Policy. The report outlines more than 50 recommendations and action steps policy makers can take now to help advance mental health policy and improve mental health services nationwide.
- Increased routine mental health screening
- Long-term funding for mental health programs geared towards people with intellectual and developmental disabilities
- Improved recruitment, incentives and training programs to increase the mental health workforce
- Creating a seed fund to help primary care providers develop mental health care services
“It is going to be a very, very tough ride and I think we need to prepare for it and we need to find the grace and kindness and connectivity to come through it like we all have in times of war or other great challenges,” says Tyler Norris.
Hope for the future
Although we face many challenges addressing the evolving mental health needs of the country in an environment altered by COVID-19, success to flatten the second curve is within our grasp, according to Norris.
“It is going to be a very, very tough ride and I think we need to prepare for it and we need to find the grace and kindness and connectivity to come through it like we all have in times of war or other great challenges,” he said. “We can and must do better.”
“Our caregivers are responding to a calling,” said Dr. Medows. “They are healthcare providers and givers of care. That is what is in their nature and that is what they are trained to do. We give them additional training, resources and support in times of public health emergency so they can better do what they do best—that is giving compassionate but effective and knowledgeable care.”
“We find hope in ourselves and each other,” said Norris. “The most important resource we have is each other. We’re going to find our way through this together. This nation has always found its way through and we will again.”
Find a doctor
If you feel unwell and would like to consult your doctor, consider using telemedicine options. Providence Express Care Virtual connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory or search for one in your area.
You can also learn how your state’s department of public health is responding to the situation:
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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