May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and after a year of shared global trauma stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, taking time to focus on mental health seems particularly poignant this year. First established by Mental Health America in 1949 and recently proclaimed by President Biden’s administration, the aim of Mental Health Awareness Month is to raise awareness about mental health and fight the stigma all too often associated with mental health challenges. This year’s theme is “You are Not Alone.” Following a year where so many experienced the impact of isolation — often while also managing medical concerns and unemployment — has been significant.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, around four in ten U.S. adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder. This is a significant increase from the one in ten adults who reported the same symptoms before the pandemic. As healthcare organizations look to address physical health concerns, they must acknowledge mental health concerns as well.
Tackling the problem from the inside out
As healthcare organizations work tirelessly to treat the physical health of their patients, mental and social concerns like those brought on by the pandemic are additional important factors in shaping the whole health of a patient.
That’s why here at GetWellNetwork, both current product designs and future roadmaps are guided by direction from our Behavioral Health Council. The council is made up of a select group of diverse clients and partners, including everyone from nurses to CEOs — all innovators doing on-the-ground implementation of behavioral health work.
The goal? Help healthcare organizations meet patients where they are on their mental healthcare journey. The Behavioral Health Council helps ensure that GetWellNetwork’s digital health tools consider the patient’s entire well-being — including their mental health — providing a comprehensive approach to patient engagement.
Scaling the human element in times of need
Across the past year, as demand for mental health services spiked, mental health providers have struggled to meet the demand. Telehealth and videoconferencing have somewhat helped bridge the gap, but healthcare organizations often struggle to address the mental health needs of their patients among continued stretched and limited resources. Our GetWell Loop technology weaves in behavioral health components to many care plans and can help scale the human element of healthcare, allowing providers, nurses, and other staff to practice at the top of their licenses while ensuring patients receive the support they need.
Helping teams scale access has proven critical during the COVID-19 pandemic, when patients have often turned to text messaging and other support formats because they could not get through on a “1-800” resource number.
Digital health tools can provide a way for patients to reach out for support and resources at any time from their own personal device, making it easier to address both physical and mental health at a time when a patient most needs it.
Accounting for mental health in comprehensive care plans
State-of-the-art digital health technology is just the starting point for providing a whole-person, social approach to mental health care. Including a human element, such as breathing exercises, stress management, and mindfulness videos, is a critical piece of any care plan.
The GetWell Loop digital care management software has built-in trigger alerts to drive patients to the right resources during crisis moments. All of these features combine to make patients feel cared for and supported.
Caring for the mental health of vulnerable populations
Docent Health, now part of GetWellNetwork, delivers personalized web-and mobile-friendly content based on a patient’s unique mental health needs — enabling organizations to target the most vulnerable patient populations, including young people, a group that has faced particularly significant mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acutely considering health equity and social determinants of health (SDOH), Docent is able to address a patient’s hierarchy of needs, ensuring that the basic resources are in place.
From pre-built surveys to real-time insights and a resource support library, Docent’s numerous tools provide compassionate, seamless support to patients. And the strategy is proving out: Docent Health’s collaboration with Sutter Health™ supports the unique needs of youth ages 12 to 26 years old who experience anxiety or depression, and was recently recognized as one of Fast Company’s 2021 World-Changing Ideas.
The Scout by Sutter Health™ program is seeing significant growth in patient enrollment in 2021, as more families and providers look for ways to manage increasing rates of anxiety and depression among young people. Scout participant enrollment more than doubled 2020 enrollments in just the first quarter of 2021, and the program expects for the growth to continue accelerating throughout the year. It is filling an important gap for many young patients, with one young patient stating, “Even though it doesn’t replace therapy, it was nice to just have somebody check in every once in a while,” she said. “I also had resources, like tips for meditation and ways to just basically get [my] feelings out and come to terms with things.”
The bottom line
Without accounting for a patient’s mental health, any treatment of physical or social needs is incomplete. That’s why we’ve prioritized an approach in our solutions that considers the patient as a holistic individual — one with physical, social, and mental health needs.
From personalization strategies and crisis resources, to recognizing the importance of a patient’s peace of mind and their ability to feel heard and supported, healthcare technology has a great deal to offer. It’s the human element that must be kept in mind — and Mental Health Month is the perfect opportunity to strive to do just that.
Please note: The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has established a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) via their National Helpline. For resources, please call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).