Years have passed since the COVID-19 pandemic shocked the world and changed the lives of people worldwide. The pandemic outbreak has brought drastic changes not only in the healthcare system, but also in the economy, education, and the livelihood of everyone as the governments enforced a series of lockdown, quarantine, social distancing, and border shutdowns to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
As the lockdown and quarantine continue, the world began to suffer from psychological problems due to the challenges brought by the COVID-19 as well as the sudden life changes that people need to adapt to. Since face-to-face consultation and mental health services were prohibited, healthcare services found other alternatives and interventions to continue providing quality health care and alleviate the increasing mental health problems amid the pandemic.
Technology plays an important role when it comes to alternatives during the lockdown. As physical interaction was limited, all the necessary services were moved online for accessibility and efficient use.
Alternative Mental Health Services during Pandemic
Mental health clinics and services are not exempted from the closure of several industries as a face-to-face consultation, counseling, and assessment were prohibited while in quarantine. Many countries have adopted ways and alternatives to overcome disruptions to face-to-face interventions. Digital mental health interventions became rampant, as countries came with different terms of online services; such as Telemental health, Telepsychiatry, Telemedicine, and other forms of mental health services that replace the usual in-person or face-to-face intervention.
In China, Telemental health services prioritize people who are high risk to COVID-19 including front liners, COVID-19 positive patients, policemen, and other essential workers. They provide counseling, supervision, training, and psycho-education in different forums using smartphone applications, e-mails, and text messaging. Reports show that people in isolation actively seek help through online support to address their mental health needs (Zhou et. al 2020).
In the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) together with the National Privacy Commission (NPC) developed telemedicine services to provide the public better access to health services during the community quarantine. DOH states the importance of maximizing the technology to connect the patients with medical professionals to receive medical advice from the comfort of their homes. Not only the public but front liners including the healthcare workers were also urged to avail the service (Department of Health, 2020).
The Telemedicine service involves medical consultations over the phone, chat, text messages, and other visual or audio platforms. Health professionals can conduct consultations, interviews, and online sessions thru means of electronic devices to create reports, prescriptions, and diagnoses.
Crisis Hotlines also became popular during the pandemic in the Philippines, the DOH launched the NCMH Crisis Hotline accessible for all who are undergoing mental health crises. It is a 24/7 operated hotline that provides suicide intervention, prevention, and response to the community's concerns (Department of Health, 2019). Other organizations such as the Red Cross Philippines established Hotline1158 which addresses not only mental health problems but also queries about COVID-19 treatment and other facts. The hotline was run by trained volunteers who provide information aligned with the data of DOH and WHO. Medical professional volunteers are also on standby to provide medical advice and counseling to callers (Philippine Red Cross 2020).
Another way to provide mental health care is by distance video conferencing with a mental health professional which shows promising results for patients with anxiety and mood disorders. These blended care models have developed the capabilities of serving mental health patients with digital technologies (Wind, Rijkeboer, Andersson & Riper 2020).
Challenges of Digital Mental Health Services
Although digital mental health service offers access to mental health services during the pandemic, it still has their limitations and potential risks. Some limitations include the lack of interaction that limits the mental health professional from making a correct observation on the patient’s condition, this may affect the diagnosis as well as possible interventions that might work for the patient. Likewise, patients might as well feel uncomfortable and were unable to properly describe their feelings on camera. Furthermore, the doctors state that getting informed consent before starting the telemedicine/online meeting with the patient is important to protect the privacy of both parties (Parrocha, 2020).
Another challenge is the public’s access to technology and online literacy. Online mental health services are not new in the field since it already exists before the pandemic. However, people still prefer physical interaction with a professional since only a few know how to use the service nor can access the sites that offer online services. Other issues like internet availability, having gadgets that can support online activities, and lack of knowledge about the latest technology advancement are also some of the factors why people prefer face-to-face services (Figueroa & Aguilera, 2020).
Despite the benefits of digital services, we must keep in mind that these services are just alternatives that must be used as supplements to enhance, not replace the traditional face-to-face interventions. As long as the pandemic and quarantine remains, we all have to resort to these alternatives to continue receiving proper mental health caremainre, to aid the fight against the increasing toll of mental health problems. Remember that help is always available for those people who need it.
· Department of Health. (2019). Launch of the NCMH crisis hotline: Department of health. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://doh.gov.ph/press-release/launch-of-the-NCMH-crisis-hotline
Department of Health. (2020). DOH boost telemedicine services for NCR service to expand toother regions. Retrieved from: https://doh.gov.ph/doh-press-release/DOH-BOOST- TELEMEDICINE-SERVICES-FOR-NCR-SERVICE-TO-EXPAND-TO-OTHER-REGIONS-SOON
· Figueroa, C. A., & Aguilera, A. (2020). The Need for a Mental Health Technology Revolution in the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00523
Parrocha, A. (2020, October 11). Telemedicine will ‘enhance, not replace’ traditional checkups. Philippine News Agency. https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1118146
Philippine Red Cross (2020). Philippine Red Cross Launches COVID-19 Hotline 1158. Retrieved January 30, 2021, from https://pia.gov.ph/news/articles/1038012
Wind, T. R., Rijkeboer, M., Andersson, G., & Riper, H. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic: The ‘black swan’ for mental health care and a turning point for e-health. Internet Interventions, 20, 100317. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.invent.2020.100317
Zhou, X., Snoswell, C., Harding, L., Bambling, M., Edirippulige, S., Bai, X., & Smith, A. (2020). The Role of Telehealth in Reducing the Mental Health Burden from COVID-19. Telemedicine and E-Health, 26(4), 377-379. doi:10.1089/tmj.2020.0068