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Mental Health During Quarantine

Updated: Apr 9, 2020


By Teri Burns

As area residents self-isolate and try to cope with the growing coronavirus crisis under the governor’s stay-at-home orders, many may find themselves dealing with issues like anxiety and depression. Local mental health professionals want to reassure them that help is available.

Golden Services Counseling, Presbyterian Medical Services Behavioral Health, and the Artesia General Hospital Behavioral Health office in Carlsbad have all switched gears to offer their services primarily through telemedicine in keeping with the stay-at-home orders in place during the pandemic.

“We have eight clinicians on staff. Most of them are working primarily through telehealth to ensure that we don’t have clients missing their sessions,” said Kimberly Rogers, Chief Operating Officer for Golden Services.

She said both the Golden Services office and the Via De Esperanza residential treatment facility remain open, although visitors and staff, alike, are monitored for symptoms related to the coronavirus.

Via De Esperanza offers a 28-day treatment option for alcohol and drug abuse. Golden Services Counseling offers a variety of services for those aged 3 to the elderly, including education groups, substance abuse counseling, anger management, individual counseling, and marriage counseling.

“We are doing both our groups and individual sessions through telehealth,” Rogers said. “We also do education for the families we serve for home health care. We make sure that they are taking care of themselves at this time and not just isolating totally, but finding safe ways to have connection,” she added.

They also do supervised visitation and serve as a location for the safe exchange of children in shared custody situations. They continue to provide both services, although the supervised visitations are now virtual.

Rogers said those with a need for face-to-face counseling sessions due to hearing impairment or being a small child, or some other impediment to the audio-visual or telephonic sessions are being seen on a case-by-case basis with the agreement of all parties and screening for symptoms to ensure that both the clients and clinicians are safe.

“Traditionally, I’ve seen all my patients face-to-face in the office,” said Ron Haugen, a

Ron Haugen

psychiatric nurse practitioner with the AGH Behavioral Health office in Carlsbad. He noted that psychiatry has been using telemedicine for years, so it was relatively easy to make the switch in treatment during this time.

“It’s an easy transition because we don’t really have to touch the patient. I am able to give essentially the same services via audio-visual or by phone. We can still have a worthwhile visit,” he said, adding the audio-visual element of telemedicine is similar to Facetime or Skype, with which people may be familiar.

So far, the transition has been good. “We haven’t had a big disruption in services,” he said. “We are a very busy clinic, but for the most part, we’re able to provide services to 100 percent of our clients.”

There have been a few challenges to overcome, however. Haugen said some clients who do not have internet access have come to the office parking lot to make use of the Wi-Fi account, and where they don’t have the needed devices or there is some other obstacle, he has been able to connect with clients via phone. He added, some insurance companies have relaxed their restrictions on telemedicine connections in light of the current situation.

He did note that he has a few patients that require monthly injections in the office, and they will continue to do that with the proper precautions. Otherwise, he and his staff are working remotely.

AGH Behavioral Health has four nurse practitioners seeing Carlsbad clients via telemedicine. They provide psychiatric evaluations to determine if someone has a mental health issue that needs to be addressed. He also offers psycho-education to provide ways to manage mental health issues, teaching his clients about self-care, life skills, and relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness. He also offers medication management for those needing that service.

His office does not provide ongoing mental health counseling, but Haugen said, at any point, he may refer clients to other services and medical providers that they may need for medical issues or mental health counseling.

Both Haugen and Rogers said they anticipate an increase in the need for mental health services during the period of self-isolation.

“Everyone has some level of anxiety or worry associated with this,” Haugen said. “I have noticed with the existing patients that they have more concerns regarding the virus.”

Rogers said Golden Services has seen an increase in people seeking assistance during this crisis, and that they have also been contacted by area businesses to provide assistance and support for their staff in employee assistance programs.

“I do think the counseling is going to continue to be busy because of this unknown and everything constantly changing,” she said, adding it’s the effect of the news, isolation, and being away from their families that are culminating in the need for help. For some with underlying mental health issues, these factors may bring those issues to the surface.

“I think with people being in their homes, we will see an increase in substance abuse and domestic violence and child abuse out of fear and frustration that they don’t know how to handle,” Rogers said, adding those outsiders, like teachers and family, who would normally pick up on those issues aren’t there to do so as people self-isolate.

Rogers said one way her staff is combatting the effect of that fear and frustration is through education about the facts of the virus and social distancing guidelines, as well as hygiene and sanitizing. Equipping people with the facts about staying safe during the pandemic may give some people a better sense of control in a chaotic time.

“And we talk about hope, and we connect with people,” she added of the telemedicine visits.

“A lot of the staff have also talked about keeping the numbers in perspective because the estimations of what is to come is scary for individuals,” Rogers said, adding the mortality rate for the virus remains at 1-2 percent.

“The world is a different place, and it creates an emotional situation,” she said.

“As time goes on, the isolation is going to be the biggest factor with any problems that may occur,” Haugen said. “The isolation is getting to people and making them worry a little more.”

He added that obsessing over the virus isn’t helping. “It’s good to stay connected and informed with what is going on right now. However, staying glued to the news all day long tends to make them more worrisome,” he said.

Both Haugen and Rogers said they continue to take new patients during this time and have staff available to take calls at Golden Services, AGH Behavioral Health, and Via De Esperanza. They stressed that anyone experiencing a mental health crisis that cannot get in for treatment should call 911 or go to the emergency room for care.

PMS Behavioral Health was unavailable for comment but issued a statement that said they are also providing telemedicine services and have staff available by phone to make appointments.

Golden Services may be reached at 575-234-3335. AGH Behavioral Health may be reached at 575-725-5562. PMS Behavioral Health may be reached at 575-885-4836. Villa De Esperanza may be reached at 575-885-1689.

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