COVID-19, Mental Health & Technology

Author: Mike S Taylor

How technology can be leveraged in mental health care and combat loneliness during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic This is Jo’Vianni Smith.

Jo’Vianni Smith was an energetic 15-year-old girl described as a “blazing force behind the bat.” A Bear Creek High School student in California, she thrived in softball, basketball and music.

She was “bubbly and loving,” says her mother, Danielle Hunt. “If you met her one time, she made an impact in your life.”

But at the beginning of this past April, Jo’Vianni took her own life.

Hunt believes that her daughter may have had trouble coping with California’s stay-at-home order due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

And Jo’Vianni is not alone — in nearby Natomas, California, educators there say two students have also died.

Her and others’ tragic stories shed light on the catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, particularly due to social distancing and stay-at-home orders. After all, humans are social beings.

“We humans are social beings; we share mirror neurons that allow us to match each other’s emotions unconsciously and immediately. We leak emotions to each other. We anticipate and mirror each other’s movements when we’re in sympathy or agreement with one another — when we’re on the same side. And we can mirror each other’s brain activity when we’re engaged in storytelling and listening — both halves of the communication conundrum.” — Nick Morgan, American speaking coach and author.

While social distancing is important to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, it could worsen problems for the more than one of four adults who say they felt isolated even before the outbreak, and increase the risk of loneliness for others, especially the 35.7 million Americans living alone.

Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to many physical and mental health problems including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression which could lead to suicide. When we spend quality time with another person, we experience what is called intrinsic joy. Brain scanning studies have shown that subcortical brain regions, such as the ventral striatum, which plays an important role in motivation, are activated when receiving social and monetary rewards.

However, when we feel lonely, brain regions associated with distress are activated instead. This is likely due to evolution, driving us to establish and maintain social connections to ensure survival.

For those who do have a mental health condition, perhaps anxiety, depression or schizophrenia, loneliness can increase the severity of their symptoms. And currently, receiving much relied on in-person treatments are not an option.

Stay-at-home orders are not the only way by which the recent pandemic is affecting mental health. The fear of the virus itself can cause anxiety or stress, particularly for those with OCD like myself. Unemployment, the loss of a loved one, and drastic schedule changes are just a few of the factors that are worsening mental health during this pandemic.

However, we are still extremely lucky. We are lucky because we have the power of technology which can be used in mental health care and combat loneliness during this extremely difficult time.

Technology for Mental Health Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Technology is the key to providing accessible mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it can provide those struggling with self-administered, digital therapeutics that do not require in-person contact.

Virtual Therapy, Chatbots & Social Media

The federal government has recently expanded Medicare coverage of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who are struggling now have greater access to virtual mental health care, or telemental health.

Online applications like Betterhelp and Talkspace connect people to virtual counseling with licensed therapists with just the tap of a finger.

Talkspace can connect you with a licensed therapist from the palm of your handU.S. states can also assist in increasing telemental health access. New York state is currently building a network of volunteer licensed mental health professionals to offer free counseling to residents. States can additionally use emergency orders to activate additional master’s-level licensed professional counselors, allowing them to treat patients and bill Medicare.

In fact, with artificial intelligence-based applications, those who need help during this time can do so without the need of a licensed thera