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Mental Health Requests Rise During Pandemic

Sad, depressed

(Daniel Reche, Pixabay)

4 Mar. 2021. An analysis of health records shows requests for mental health services increased markedly during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Researchers from Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, a health care plan and provider based in Oakland, present the findings in yesterday’s issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry (registration required).

A team led by Kathryn Erickson-Ridout, a psychiatrist and researcher at Santa Rose Medical Center in California, sought to assess the emotional impact of shelter-in-place orders in the state issued from March until May 2020. During that time Kaiser Permanente and other providers switched to telemedicine to serve much of its patient population, including for psychiatric services.

“Covid-19 has created huge psychosocial disruption,” says Erickson-Ridout in a Kaiser Permanente statement. “It’s impacting people’s ability to work, socialize, and have relationships, and that is having mental health consequences.”

The researchers started with 181,000 electronic health records in the Kaiser Permanente system from 9 Mar. to 31 May 2020, and almost 165,700 records during the same period in 2019, sampling 94,600 records in 2020 and 94,700 in 2019. In those records, the team looked for requests for psychiatric services, as well as demographic characteristics of Kaiser Permanente members requesting these services, as well as from existing or new system members.

The results show requests for mental health services among Kaiser Permanente members rose seven percent during March to May 2020 compared to 2019. The findings show a majority of those 2020 requests were made through telemedicine, either by telephone or video, with the volume of those requests increasing by 264 percent. The largest increases were for addiction services, which rose 42 percent compared to 2019.

The findings show large increases in specific requests for help with substance abuse (51%), adjustment problems (15%), anxiety (12%), bipolar (9%), and psychosis (6%) disorders. Adjustment problems are responses to stressful live events, experienced by sadness or hopelessness.

More younger adults seeking care

“The increases we found in patients seeking care for substance use and anxiety,” adds Erickson-Ridout, “are consistent with other data showing the pandemic and shelter-in-place orders were difficult for many people. These findings reflect what I experienced with my patients who sought out care.”

Kaiser Permanente members requesting more psychiatric services in 2020 tend to be younger adults, age 18 to 39, which increased four percent compared to 2019, while service requests for children and older members decreased by 23 and six percent respectively. Mental health requests from White and male Kaiser Permanente members also declined in 2020 by four and five percent respectively. Service requests from existing psychiatric patients declined slightly (2%), while requests from new patients declined sharply, dropping by 42 percent compared to 2019.

The authors say the results indicate acceptance of telemedicine by many plan members as a feasible option for psychiatric service delivery. A desire to avoid health care facilities contributes to the large jump in telemedicine use, say the authors, as well as help from caregivers to navigate online services.

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