Coronavirus Moves Mental Health, Addiction Treatment Online

Coping methods for millions of Americans struggling with mental health or substance abuse have become more difficult during the coronavirus outbreak.
Posted at 8:22 PM, Mar 24, 2020

Coping methods for millions of Americans struggling with mental health or substance abuse have become more difficult as people self-isolate.

"One in ten Americans struggles with addiction today and with the COVID-19 crisis, that's only getting exacerbated with social distancing and people being isolated, where all of the in-person support meetings are now shut down," said entrepreneur Daniela Tudor.

Entrepreneur Daniela Tudor and former professional tennis player Murphy Jensen, both in recovery, have begun offering free online support meetings through their app, WEconnect Health.

Teletherapy isn't a new concept. And federal agencies like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are encouraging its use during the pandemic.

Shortages of mental health professionals, the cost of treatment and social stigma are just some of the significant barriers to mental health care facing many Americans. For these people, teletherapy may be a game changer — during the pandemic and beyond.

"We can't do the ideal right now so the next best thing it seems to me, and I think the research would back this up, is to do teletherapy. And I think we're probably going to see the mental health community will probably be changed by this and there probably will be more telehealth services,"  said Dr. Vinita Mehta, a clinical psychologist based in Washington, D.C.

Still, for people recovering from addiction, the coronavirus crisis could trigger relapse. Social media is filled with posts about using drugs and alcohol to ease anxiety. The same pressures exist for those working to overcome disordered eating.

"A very important piece of the recovery process is being part of a community who understands what it is that you're going through and also prolonged self-isolation can actually begin to reinforce the problem again so that people who are by themselves may be more prone to drinking or using because they're by themselves so much. We're not meant to be apart from other people and yet the irony is that this is exactly what we have to do in order to survive," said Dr. Mehta.

On the other hand, some in recovery prefer online support groups, which may offer more affordable services anywhere and at any time. 

Of course, not all who are struggling have access to webcams or private places for phone calls, but experts say staying connected as we social distance is crucial.

"The most important thing through COVID-19 is the fact that for people with substance abuse disorders, they stay connected and plugged in and leverage any and all technologies possible," said Jensen, adding, "It was my experience that addiction was centered around my own isolation.  . . .  Being on the phone, sending text messages, I think making sure that my home is a safe place from triggers is something that's key."

Contains footage from CNN.