The isolation prompted by the pandemic is exacerbating many behavioral health issues, but local providers are adapting the practices and trying to meet the needs of their patients, all while dealing with a shock to their own lives.
Raymond Castilleja is the behavioral health director at Prism Health North Texas, which provides integrated healthcare to those living with and at high risk for HIV in the region. “What is different now is that the entire population is experiencing culture shock at the same time,” he says. “We are navigating uncharted waters while going through our own personal issues and adjustments with out clients as well.”
The practice moved quickly to pivot to virtual health, and has been making wellness checks on its patients to make sure they are doing well during the pandemic. Castilleja says his providers are seeing a rise in anxiety, as fear about the disease and its economic impact compounds.
As routines are interrupted and social networks are interrupted, depression is increasing. But the behavioral health providers at Prism, which include counselors, a psychiatrist and psych nurse practitioners, are doing their best to validate the feelings of their patients and let them know it is normal to feel what they are feeling.
Castilleja says they are advising patients to manage their news consumption, and that knowing too much can work against mental health. While good information can reduce fear, it can also create more anxiety. He says it is best to avoid it first thing in the morning and right before bed. “We need to focus on what they can control and what they can’t control,” he says.
Finding someone else to help can also provide an escape from the fear. While bringing people together, people can feel like they are contributing by helping others. Good rest, staying connected to friends and family, and exercise are essential as well.
Right now, Prism is focused on reducing barriers to access to care, and are working to contact patients and keep them connected. The clinics remain fully staffed, and the increase in remote care could be a catalyst for a permanent change in the future of the practice. Many patients are reluctant to come to the clinics or have transportation barriers to getting there, but the pivot to virtual health could allow more to access their services.
New patients are finding their way to the behavioral health services, and while Castilleja’s staff is working to cover their needs, he knows that the providers need to take care of themselves as well. “On the front lines, we are giving so much helping people, but we need to remember that we have to take care of ourselves,” he says. “We need to manage our own burnout and self care and make sure we are taking the tips too.”