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Keeping Morale High During a Global Mental Health Crisis

A global pandemic changes daily life. It limits connections with other people. It increases the amount of stress people face. It makes earning money, getting medical care, and alleviating mental health disorder symptoms more challenging. During a global mental health crisis, it’s critical to consistently work to keep morale high within your treatment center. That’s not easy to do, especially when there’s increasing demand.

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Is a Global Mental Health Crisis Happening?

Is there really a crisis occurring? It may be more difficult to see what’s occurring in some communities. Yet, the evidence suggests a strong influx of people who need mental health support. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report that found that adults are reporting a higher level of adverse mental health conditions associated with the presence of COVID-19.

The CDC also reports that some populations are seeing a higher increase than others. These populations include younger adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers. Strong evidence of increased substance use and elevated suicidal ideation in these groups was prevalent. In June of 2020, the CDC states that 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health issues or substance use.

A study published by KFF found that, during the pandemic, 40% of adults reported anxiety and depressive disorder symptoms, which is an increase from the 10% who reported these symptoms in 2019. Individuals have been negatively impacted by the pandemic, loss of loved ones, and economic recession in various ways:

  • 36% report difficulty with sleeping
  • 32% struggle with eating
  • 12% increased their consumption of alcohol or substances
  • 12% reported worsening chronic health conditions

This stems from the worry and stress over COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, it’s clear a global mental health crisis is occurring, with more people reporting worsening mental health symptoms.

How do we know this is occurring? Are these data points accurate? Yes, they are, reports Nature. Researchers use incredibly large data sets to link the changes in coronavirus-response measures and mental health, such as isolation and social distancing measures. The CDC notes that 42% of people surveyed reported increased anxiety or depression in December of 2020. That’s an 11% increase over the previous year. The data available indicates that this isn’t a U.S. problem but a global one.

Today, people struggle with mental health symptoms for the first time, noticing increased frequency in existing symptoms, and struggling with complications from existing conditions. Much of this increase can be linked to the pandemic’s impact on daily life.

The Need for Increased Public Health Support

The increased number of people experiencing mental health disorder challenges has increased the need for care from licensed professionals. In addition, the global mental health crisis has put pressure on the behavioral health system that’s also battling fatigue, straining systems.

Need for a higher level of support

Yet, those facing the onset of mental health crisis need a higher level of support than ever before. Individuals often need to come in for the first therapy session of their lifetime. Others need an intervention after struggling for a year or more with substance use they used as a coping mechanism for isolation and economic pain. Finally, some people may need immediate support to prevent the onset of a mental health crisis, including psychosis or suicide risk.

Need for new ways to reach out for help

An additional concern is having access to care. Going in to see a counselor during a pandemic seems problematic, especially if group therapy is a common type of treatment method used. New ways to communicate and reach a therapist or support system are critical. For example, some organizations have found the value of offering telehealth therapy for groups and individual patients at a distance to ensure a continuous level of care is available.

Need for community-level support

Efforts to go out into the community to provide support have become necessary in some areas. However, with a disproportionate about of people in specific populations struggling to obtain care, there’s a need to provide more community-wide support. This indicates the broad impact of the pandemic and the need to both prevent and treat conditions on a larger scale. That may include providing more awareness to these risks and communicating (and providing) better delivery methods for meeting the needs of under-served members of the community.

Much has changed since the pandemic’s onset. That includes the increased need for help and the need for new ways to receive care. Breaking down stigma may be critically important to helping people overcome these challenges. There is a lot of work to be done within the public sector to create the change so many need.

What Can Be Done to Alleviate In-Office Pressures?

Recognizing this increased need for care showcases the demand placed on therapists and treatment centers. Increasing in-office pressures to meet with more clients and provide effective therapies are also growing in importance. This creates stress and strain on those who are needed the most. Factors like these are contributing to burnout:

  • According to Mental Health America, over 500,000 people reported signs of depression or anxiety between January and September 2020. That’s a 634% and 873% increase, respectively.
  • The demand for telehealth mental health services has grown by 302% compared to pre-COVID reports, according to Fierce Healthcare.

Burnout indicators are growing as well.

There’s no doubt that the demand for mental health services is significantly pushing and overwhelming the behavioral health sector. Burnout of professionals is high, and the need continues to grow as the pandemic continues to last.

What is driving therapist burnout? The pandemic is clearly at the heart of this burnout, but additional pressure points also exist within the industry.

  • According to some reports, there’s a long-lasting mental health crisis in the country. Core to this is a lack of enough funding in some areas to support access to care.
  • To meet with increasing demand, many professionals have lifted boundaries put in place to protect their own wellbeing, such as working longer hours or taking on more patients than they have before.
  • There’s a shortage of mental health providers to fill these growing needs. The S. Department of Health and Human Services reported way back in 2016 that there was a need for an additional 250,000 mental health workers by 2025. Largely, this hasn’t been met.

All of this adds up to burnout for professionals who want and need to care for patients during this very difficult time. But, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be help in sight for reducing these pressures.

What’s the effect of this burnout? Unfortunately, quite a few negative outcomes are potentially present as therapists continue on the burnout rate.

  • People become exhausted emotionally. They simply cannot handle the pressures.
  • Growing empathy fatigue develops where people can simply not empathize with their clients like they used to.
  • Depersonalization towards clients build. Instead of friendly, one-on-one communication and personalized care, there’s less personalized and more generalization.
  • Reduced feelings of personal accomplishments also grow. A person doesn’t feel as though they are making a difference.

All of this can build to damaging morale within the office space. That impacts treatment centers and their overall ability to meet the needs of their clients.

In a behavioral health practice setting, organizations can take steps to maintain morale (or improve it) even when these first responders to mental health crises are struggling with workload and their stress over the pandemic.

Create limitations and respect them

The first step is to create some boundaries that help to protect the therapist and team overall. Focus on promoting a “refill your tank before refilling others” attitude within the office. Numerous organizations in various industries are finding it necessary to force employees to take vacation time or breaks from their work to minimize the impact of the pandemic on operations.

At the same time, therapists and other professionals need to actively participate in burnout prevention. This may be done, for example, with daily check-ins. “Am I okay right now?” If not, communication of that concern is necessary.

More so, organizations need to communicate that their therapists are more valuable than their work. They are valuable as humans, friends, coworkers, and simply as people. People need to recognize that they are valuable to the organization, but their mental health and wellbeing are no less important than their clients’.

Keep the channels of communication open

Ensure health care providers have the resources they need. That starts with good communication. Ensure each person can reach out for help – and be sure they know there are no negative outcomes from the organization for doing so.

It’s also important to monitor for changes in staff behavior and open the conversation on what’s happening. For example, it may be critical to look for signs of withdrawal from patients. If a therapist is generally open and communicating with team members and suddenly is no longer doing so, that’s a reason to start a conversation about what’s happening.

Provide the flexibility people need

Another way to reduce and prevent burnout is to be flexible. Of course, there are limitations on flexibility in every job, but it’s important to open the door to opportunities for understanding whenever it is possible. For example, for some people, improving schedules to be more accommodating may be critical, especially if therapists’ daycare centers or schools are not available due to a sudden onset of COVID in those locations. Having flexible schedules may allow for employees to work around these challenges.

It’s still critical to communicate expectations for the workload. That may include the number of patients seen or the range of meetings taken during the week. Whatever the workload expectations are, be sure to communicate those. Then, if there are challenges, therapists need to know when and how to communicate those concerns early on. If an employee cannot get their expected workload done, it may be better to communicate that rather than working too many hours or faltering on the quality of care provided.

Have peer meetings and group sessions that discuss concerns

Recognize that the current mental health crisis is a new level of frustration and challenge for employees. That means treatment options and therapies that may help meet client needs may be significantly different than they were just a few years ago.

Providers should discuss within peer meetings what they are seeing. They need to be open about what challenges they are facing and what’s working (or not working) in helping their patients. Group meetings like this need to meet compliance requirements, but they are vital in a changing mental health state. Opening the door of communication between providers like this may help people to get the support they need sooner while also reducing provider frustration.

For example, those seeing increased substance use and relapse with patients may wish to speak to peers about the trend. Then, work together to create a new approach to these challenges in light of the pandemic.

Offer telework opportunities

One of the best ways to reach today’s therapists’ needs is to offer flexibility. That may mean allowing them to work from home whenever possible. There are numerous benefits to this. For example, it helps to reduce the risk of virus spread within the office setting itself. In addition, with people distanced, this can help keep therapists healthy and meet patient needs even as they increase.

Additionally, it may help alleviate some frustrations from therapists who may need to juggle children that are suddenly at home due to quarantine requirements even if they haven’t tested positive for the virus, but a person living in their home has.

Launch an educational campaign to allow staff and patients to communicate and share insights on the value of telehealth within the practice. Would it be beneficial? How could it work? Then, put the necessary software and tools to facilitate the process in place. This requires choosing software that’s designed to meet compliance requirements while allowing providers to work from home.

Seek out telehealth resources that are easy to learn and implement into current work systems. It may also be valuable to seek out comprehensive software solutions and bring together all aspects of therapist needs including customer relationship management , electronic medical records, alumni management tools, and revenue cycle management, into one tool.

Once in place, market telehealth services to patients. Encourage them to book their appointments as telehealth services vs traditional outpatient services. Doing so may help enable therapists to alleviate some of the workloads in the office, providing some level of improvement in burnout simply by being able to work from home.

Create opportunities for teams to find social support

Burnout will happen. When it does, organizations must take immediate steps to support what’s occurred. That may mean providing changes and opportunities within the treatment center to help providers experience relief.

  • Host events: Encourage a few hours every few weeks where providers can come together in a positive environment to relax. This may include a nice meal, a social gathering, or even a fun activity like an entertainment center. Focus on ways to boost positive vibes in the office.
  • Encourage feedback: Always encourage therapists and other staff members to open up about what’s happening and, most importantly, what the treatment center itself can do to support improvements in those challenging areas. What are providers experiencing? What would help alleviate at least some of that pressure?
  • Encourage remote work carefully: Working remotely is becoming more common for treatment center staff, but it’s also important to focus heavily on minimizing isolation. Employees need to still feel as though they are a part of the company and, therefore, valuable. Try to bring people together weekly to create a sense of community within the treatment center.

Continuously strive to show appreciation for the work a person is doing. But, at the same time, don’t reward employees for working long hours or encourage a situation where burnout is expected.

How Can Sunwave Offer Solutions to Support Better Outcomes?

Utilizing a software solution to support better communication, patient engagement, and telehealth services can help support reduce burnout within treatment centers. In addition, there are various potential benefits to a tool like this.

Check out all that Sunwave can offer to organizations today. If your team is facing burnout, implement an easy-to-learn software solution that can foster change and improvement from the ground up. Check out a demo to learn more about what we can offer.