Neurology and mental health: Treating the whole patient and family

January 14, 2021 Covenant Health Team

Hundreds of millions of people are affected by neurological disorders. According to the World Health Organization, more than 50 million people have epilepsy, and around 47 million are affected by dementia globally.

When you or a loved one needs neurological treatment, it can feel intimidating. At Covenant Health, mental health professionals and neurological experts are teaming up to embrace a new way to treat patients and their families who are dealing with mental health issues related to brain injuries and neurological healing.

To learn about this unique approach to mental health, Meredith Cunningham, Covenant Health communications manager, invited two guests from Covenant Health to share their perspectives and expertise on the topics of neurology and psychology. Her guests include:

  • Dr. Katie Hendley, Neurologist
  • Dr. Valerie Johnson, Clinical Psychologist

You can watch the full 24-minute conversation directly below, or scroll down to read the Q&A highlights from the discussion.

How does Covenant’s Neuroscience Institute work to treat not only the patient, but also the whole family?

Hendley: About 95% of the patients with neurologic disease do have a component of not only cognitive impairment, but also anxiety and depression—it’s truly an organic symptom and part of their disease on a neurochemical level. Dealing with the burden that neurologic disease has on their current life and what they thought their life was going to be like is very real. And if that component is not touched on, then I can give them medicine every day, but it's not going to lead to an improvement in their quality of life and wellbeing. The patient almost always has a caregiver in the room, and if their caregiver is not well, then then I know that [the patient] is not going to be well. So, I have to address the impact that their disease is having on their caregiver as well. Dr. Johnson can help approach that, and in the short time she's been here, we've already seen huge impacts in the face-to-face appointments with patients regarding way their disease is impacting their quality of life.

Johnson: A lot of people don't realize that there are behavioral, emotional and interpersonal barriers to treatment that people are facing. This is a way to holistically address some of those barriers so that people can better comply with their treatment regimens and make progress.

Some people may be concerned about coming to the hospital because of COVID-19. What are the implications of ignoring issues related to neurological or mental health?

Hendley: We have lost human connection through all the things that that we should appropriately be doing for COVID-19. So, I would have a hard time hearing anybody say that they're not struggling with mental health and what's happened this year. I think now's as good a time as ever to try and identify how everybody can improve their mental health. COVID-19 is affecting everyone whether we admit it or not.

Dr. Johnson: People with preexisting mental health concerns and many people with neurological conditions are at a higher risk of developing more severe problems during crises like COVID-19. We're all feeling that isolation, and that can really exacerbate depressive symptoms or preexisting mental health concerns. So, it's really important that people make a plan for reducing feelings of isolation, whether that be virtual meetups with family members or friends, phone calls or structuring your time in a way that gives you small things to look forward to every day to help combat that sense of isolation.

How do you support patients that are at a higher risk of developing more severe neurological or mental health issues during this time?

Johnson: We provide behavioral health intervention support, so that might involve things like problem solving strategies for increasing motivation. We also provide cognitive behavioral therapy for depression and anxiety, challenging some of those negative thoughts that come up, along with support for self-care, structuring your day and mindfulness practices—these are all different types of techniques that we use to help support people around their mental health concerns.


Find a doctor

When you or a loved one needs neurological treatment, it can feel pretty intimidating. The Covenant Neuroscience Institute offers the most advanced neurosurgery, neurology and neuro-rehabilitation services available in a comfortable, patient-friendly environment.

If you need care now, you can connect to care in minutes using the Virtual Care service. If you’re looking for a doctor, visit our provider directory.

To learn more about how we’re addressing the pandemic, visit our coronavirus information hub.

Related resources

Covenant Neuroscience Institute

Removing the stigma: Let’s talk about mental health

World Health Organization: Neurology and public health

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

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