Can Mental Health Care be as Easy as Buying a Pair of Pants?
What if you could go to your favorite store and click on the mental health care package of your choice. Let’s say you’ve been feeling depressed for the last two months. Thinking about all the ways you’ve screwed up your life. Let’s say, your favorite mental health store is MentalHealthNow. It caters to your age group, it’s not too expensive and it was recommended by a friend.
You take the optional depression test, then you scan the list of offerings.
You choose a package of two therapy sessions a week for three weeks, and then you choose your therapist.
You have the option of adding a brief meet and greet before therapy begins.
You add it to your cart, click the check out now button and pay.
You can pay outright or use your insurance.
Your therapy session starts tonight. I mean, when you need something, you need it now, right? If you don’t like it, you can return it for a full refund or get credit for another package. Just like a perfect pair of pants, right? Would you try it? Would you buy the pants?
Let’s look at another example. John’s regular doctor changed his antidepressant telling him to simply stop one medication and start another. Now he felt awful, and his doctor is on vacation. He could wait for an appointment, see someone else, or he could check in with an online psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner – someone who deals with these medications every day. He goes to MentalHealthNow or another online mental health service to choose the clinician of his choice. Someone can talk with him, now. He adds some information, clicks the check out now button and pays. A clinician calls him within the half hour. He discusses his symptoms and determines that the medication switch requires some weening from one drug to the next. A plan is set. John begins weening himself from one drug while adding the other and makes an appointment with his regular doctor. He almost immediately begins feeling better. Is this the future of mental health care? Maybe.
Here at the Miller-Dwan Foundation we talk a lot about digital/technical solutions to mental health. We talk about telemental health. We talk about gadgets, apps and cranial electrotherapy stimulation devices like Apha-Stim, (an at home device designed to use low-level electrical current to balance your brain and your nervous system). Any of these devices and/or technical solutions can work. Apps remind us when to be mindful. Some people swear by cranial electrotherapy for anxiety and depression. And without telehealth, thousands of people during the pandemic would have gone unseen. John went online and got the immediate answers he needed. And so, it might seem we have clear handle on this mental health crisis, right? Or maybe something’s missing.
It is, in fact, possible right now to reach out to a clinician online, just as John did. It worked for John because he had the cash –– $250 for 30 minutes. He had a computer, and he had the where-with-all. He also had a primary care physician with whom he could follow up. Since the pandemic, more insurance companies are paying for online care, a long-over-due, very necessary change. But what about the uninsured or underinsured? Sometimes, those with the fewest resources are those most in need. And even in the best of times, technology can be a challenge for any of us.
I personally love the idea of shopping for therapy like shopping for pants. But I’m one of those people. I like alone time, and I would enjoy the privacy that online care affords. And I have sufficient insurance that would likely pay. Still, despite being an introvert, alone time during the pandemic became too much alone, too much isolation. As it turns out, even I need social connection. We all do. Research shows, in fact, that loneliness is on the rise, and that a lack of human connection can be more harmful to your health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure.
To explore our region’s mental health gaps, the Miller-Dwan Foundation collaborated with other organizations to gather information about what’s most important to people now in regard to mental health. With information from clinicians, patients and families, we learned that people increasingly feel disconnected. “While technology seems to connect us more than ever, the screens around us disconnect us from nature, from ourselves and from others. Wi-Fi alone isn’t enough to fulfill our social need – we need face-to-face interaction to thrive,” says the Canadian Mental Health Association in the Importance of Human Connection. Technology can help fulfill a need. It can enhance our connections, but it should not replace it.
We live in a world with more than seven billion people. We don’t need to go it alone. We need a sense of belonging. We need meaning in our lives. It’s just the way we’re made. It’s what makes us human. Reach out online if you need to, want to and can. Gather all your resources. Get the app and take medication prescribed to you. Eat right, exercise, and get some rest. Try everything to see what works best. For heaven’s sake, buy the pants. But remember, mental health is not a one and done activity. Wellness is a life-long pursuit.
And don’t forget, human connection plays a key role in how you feel. So, if you’re feeling lonely or isolated:
- Join a new club, or try out a group activity
- Reach out to an old friend you’ve lost touch with
- Volunteer for a cause you care about
- Visit someone else who’s lonely
- Eat lunch in a communal space
- Introduce yourself to your neighbors
- Do a random act of kindness
- Help someone when they need help
- Ask someone for help when you need it
The Miller-Dwan Foundation has always prioritized connection, compassion and dignified healthcare. You can see in the creation of Solvay Hospice House, feel it in our Amberwing facility and know it by how we work with one another, our colleagues and our community members. If you’d like to support the Miller-Dwan Foundation and one of our many initiatives, go to mdfoundation.org