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6 Online Tools For Maintaining Mental Health During Social Distancing

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Quarantining during the COVID-19 pandemic is stressful for everyone, but it can be particularly stressful for anyone with an underlying mental health condition. What’s worse, stress can exacerbate previously undiagnosed mental health conditions, which in turn can aggravate underlying chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

While much attention has been paid to the effort to battle the threat coronavirus poses to our physical health, especially for those with chronic illnesses, there’s been less attention to the resulting negative effects on our mental health. But there are plenty of resources available to address mental health, even during a quarantine. Beginning in May (which is National Mental Health Month), the City of Philadelphia is partnering with Independence Blue Cross (Independence) to address these issues. The collaboration’s new #mindPHL Together site presents a collection of online tools that can help people identify and find help for their mental health conditions during lockdown and beyond. We spoke to Dr. Richard Snyder, chief medical officer at Independence, about how people can find the help they need online.

Free Mental Health Screening

In these uncertain, stressful times, it can be hard to know what’s a normal reaction and what is a reaction that can be harmful to your health. That’s why the #mindPHL site provides access to free, online mental health screening tools to help users determine whether they are in need of help and what treatment options might be right for them.

“There’s a huge unidentified population out there who are suffering with mild to moderate, and in some cases severe depression and anxiety,” Dr. Snyder says. “That’s who we’re aiming to help.”

Mindfulness App

For people who determine that they are simply suffering from everyday stress, Dr. Snyder recommends seeking out a mindfulness or meditation app like Stop, Breathe & Think. A premium membership to this app is currently available free to Independence members. Guided meditations that take you to a different place, in your mind,  are particularly recommended for relaxing the natural stress induced by being confined to a single location during quarantine.

Guided Exercise Programs

With gyms and many parks closed, exercise can be more difficult than ever, and that can have a stress-inducing effect for people in all mental states. Physical exercise releases endorphins in the base of the brain, which gives you the feeling of euphoria, often called an exercise high, that relieves stress.

“Physical exercise has long been known to address depression and anxiety in patients,” says Dr. Snyder. To help people exercise at home, Independence suggests the Quil Preparedness Tool, which presents guided physical exercise routines you can do at home. It also provides mental stimulation and tips on staying healthy during lockdown. Independence is offering the Quil tool to members at no cost.

Computerized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

To address mild to moderate mental health conditions, especially during the pandemic, Dr. Snyder suggests online behavioral health therapy, which Independence offers to members on its website. The interactive platform walks users through cognitive behavioral therapy, an effective treatment for conditions like anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and insomnia. The treatment works by helping the subject to redirect their reaction to things that serve as  triggers for their condition. It’s especially useful for those who prefer using their computers rather than taking time out of a busy day to attend in-person therapy. According to Dr. Snyder, this approach is especially attractive to the Millennial generation, which suffers from a higher prevalence of mental health diagnoses than prior generations when they were  the same age.

Hotlines and Teleconferencing

For people with more severe conditions, telebehavioral health therapy may be the answer. Video conferencing or simple phone calls with trained therapists have risen in popularity since the pandemic broke out, and the #mindPHL site is helping those afflicted by providing a collection of local and national hotlines for people struggling. Dr. Snyder suggests exploring to find the right kind of treatment and therapist for you, since it’s often easy to mistake symptoms of anxiety, for example, with depression. Most importantly, he hopes that people will be able to take advantage of these tools during their quarantine and beyond.

“People are different, and by virtue of stigma or time constraints, they don’t have the ability or willingness to talk to someone, or they can’t get away from home to do that,” Dr. Snyder says. “So we’ve increased access to care for our members through telebehavioral health. We’re seeking to make it so that everyone can get treatment, no matter their situation.”

Want to learn more about how to handle stress during the pandemic? Visit mindPHLtogether.com.