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By Ken Seeley, Founder, Ken Seeley Communities
One of the pillars of the recovery community, outpatient support and group therapy, seems to have been toppled due to the coronavirus. Ah, but not to worry because, thankfully, technology is saving the day.
Telehealth has literally become a lifesaver during the COVID-19 pandemic. With our movements severely restricted for weeks on end, at least we can fire up the computer to chat with a medical or mental health practitioner when problems crop up. For those in addiction recovery, the video conferencing apps have been invaluable. Having ready access to a therapist is essential in recovery, so for the time being we will rely on the many benefits of telehealth services.
Most people hear the terms “telehealth” or “telemedicine” and assume these platforms are restricted to assessing medical conditions. Thankfully, many psychotherapists have readily adapted these systems to their clinical practice during the COVID-19 crisis. For individuals in recovery, having handy sessions over a telehealth platform offers a lifeline, especially considering the emotional turmoil this historic event is causing worldwide.
How Telehealth Provides a Lifeline for Individuals in Addiction Recovery
Stress is enemy number one in addiction recovery, hands down. Learning ways to cope with stressful life events and the resulting anxiety or mental distress are essential to a sustained recovery. For those who are newly sober, the effects of unmanaged stress can result in relapse, making stress management an invaluable recovery tool.
But with this current climate of uncertainty and worry, no matter how many stress-reduction methods you employ you may still find yourself unsettled and possibly teetering on the brink of relapse. In normal times, a group session at the outpatient center or a private session with the therapist could quell the emotional unrest and help you get centered again. But these are not normal times. Fortunately, we still have access to the same types of interventions through telehealth, just not the in-person sessions at this time.
6 Benefits of Telehealth During the COVID-19 Event
There has been much recent reporting on the increase of drug and alcohol consumption during the coronavirus lockdowns. Undoubtedly, people are resorting to self-medicating the high stress levels that this combination health and financial event are having on us all. So, whether you are already in recovery and just need to access mental health support or if you are developing a substance use disorder during the quarantine, the availability of telehealth services is a critical tool at this time.
Here are 6 ways that telehealth platforms are helpful during the pandemic:
- Accessibility. Even though the telehealth apps offer only a digital therapy experience versus an in-person one, you can’t beat the easy access of these services. Without leaving the comfort of your home you can enjoy the comforting support of an addiction counselor or psychotherapist who can guide you through a rough patch.
- Privacy. When discretion is a concern there is no better option than to access a therapist or clinician in the privacy of your home environment. From logging on to closing out the session total privacy is guaranteed.
- Safety. Currently, with the invisible threat of the COVID-19 virus ongoing, being out and about is not recommended. By utilizing the telehealth services during the lockdown you are not putting yourself or anyone else at risk.
- Support. Individuals in addiction recovery need to have access to support, period. Between the telehealth services and online AA meetings, it is still possible for someone in need of a support source to obtain help.
- Referrals. Being evaluated via a telehealth service can be lifesaving during the quarantine period. Depression and anxiety have increased in recent weeks, and there has been an increase in suicides. If there is a mental health crisis or a serious relapse situation going on, the telehealth therapist can refer you to a residential recovery program or for acute stabilization at a hospital.
- Screening. With the threat of contracting the virus a continual problem the role of telehealth platforms cannot be overstated. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 you can access a health provider through these online services who can assess the symptoms and refer you for testing or hospital care.
Telehealth will undoubtedly change the landscape for accessing medical and psychological care for the foreseeable future. It is efficient, handy, and provides essential support for people in distress.
Recognizing Signs of Mental Distress or Risk of Relapse
There is no doubt that our mental health is being challenged during this period. It is simply not possible to digest all of the daily news items and data about the coronavirus pandemic, or to learn that you have been furloughed or laid off, and not have it take a psychological toll. No one is exempt from the emotional effects that this crisis is having on us.
Be aware of the signs of depression, suicidal ideation, or severe anxiety, as these could have dangerous consequences amid this highly unusual time we are in:
Signs of depression
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in life
- Sleep problems
- Sudden weight changes
- Slowed thinking
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Irrational feelings of shame or guilt
- Suicidal thoughts
Signs of anxiety
- Feeling agitated
- Extreme irritability
- Constant worry and irrational fear
- Trembling, shaking
- Tense muscles
- Shallow breathing
- Racing heart
Signs of suicidal ideation
- Talking about death
- Decreasing social contact
- Increased substance use
- Obtaining items needed for suicide
- Increased risky behaviors
- Saying goodbye to loved ones
Signs of impending relapse
- Avoiding social connections
- Avoiding sober support network
- Loss of interest in daily life activities
- Romancing past substance use
- Convincing themselves they can have just one drink
- Decline in personal hygiene
I guess that if we had to go through a pandemic we should all be very grateful that we have the technology available to help us access the psychological and medical support needed to weather the event. In this way, telehealth services are a blessing.