RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Social distancing and quarantining yourself may seem like a lonely concept, but like phoning a friend, people can telephone a mental-health provider.
Tele-psychiatry is providing mental-health services through technology from a distance. This process utilizes secure portals for health-care professionals to communicate with patients, said Stacey Goldstein-Dwyer, owner of GD Psych Services in Rio Rancho.
Goldstein-Dwyer has used tele-psych in her practice before. She utilizes the service with other businesses to provide in-the-moment solutions to a problem, with patients from a long distance or with those who prefer tele-psych services.
She said with social distancing, patients have been canceling appointments, but tele-psych services can be used at home while in quarantine. Goldstein-Dwyer said now is not the time to let go of mental-health services, especially with the isolation.
“It is so very important for people to understand they can still get their mental-health needs through those alternative ways,” she said.
Loneliness and social isolation can damage a senior citizen’s health as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.
According to HRSA, 43 percent of seniors feel lonely on a regular basis. Loneliness can increase the risk of mortality in seniors by 45 percent.
“I have an elderly father who is used to going to community services four to five times a week and those services have been closed, so he is isolated,” Goldstein-Dwyer said.
Young, single people may experience isolation, as well, she said. For those quarantined with their family, having to work from home while taking care of kids can also be a challenge.
“There is no school, and employers are having people work from home. And so, there are a lot of changing dynamics, which then adds stress, which could cause anxiety and depression. There are a lot of varying reasons why people need to reach out to their mental-health support,” she said.
Many mental-health practices use long-distance communication.
“However, what some practices don’t understand in the line they are calling from, it has to be secure and protected and recognized under the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations,” Goldstein-Dwyer said. “And a lot of practices are going to want to use telephones instead of face-to-face-contact visits during the epidemic.”
She suggests taking advantage of tele-psych service, especially if a therapeutic rapport is already established between a patient and provider. Goldstein-Dwyer does not suggest tele-psych services for children or more serious cases.
“There are a lot of interventions and work within kiddos, and that is not something that can be implemented and developed via phone,” she said.
She said this also applies to testing individuals in neuropsychology-related cases, psychological evaluations or anything requiring testing and assessment measures.
“I don’t want to say that a session over the telephone is the most effective because it is not; that is why we typically like to see someone in our office,” Goldstein-Dwyer said. “But in situations like these or situations that come up that limit a person to receive services in person, then yeah, telephone or other tele-psych options would be ideal.”
She uses a secure portal for phone calls, messaging and video calls.
Goldstein-Dwyer recommends some apps and techniques to help cope with anxiety or depression from home.
Tapping Solutions is an app that helps with anxiety and worry by giving step-by-step instructions on how to manage it.
Goldstein-Dwyer also recommends connecting with people through social media.
“You don’t want to isolate; that is the worst thing you can do when it comes to a depressive mood state,” she said.
People should also try to go on walks. The idea of social distancing is to stay away from other people, not stay inside, and going outside in the sun will decrease the risk of becoming depressed, Goldstein-Dwyer said.
“Right now, it is more important than ever for people to know that they can still receive mental-health support from a licensed mental-health professional without having to do that in-person contact,” she said.