Protecting Mental Health During a Public Health Crisis


The social distancing practices instituted to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have put a spotlight on mental health as we all grapple with the anxiety of such uncertain times.

Experts have warned that the social distancing necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus may contribute to mental health problems on a short- and long-term scale. With social distancing laws now extending through the end of April by the federal government, the impact of the pandemic on mental health will only continue to be exacerbated.

In the United States, much of the reform regarding mental health has been happening on the state level. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a free mental health hotline for New Yorkers that provides consultations and referrals if necessary. 

It is not just those who already struggle with mental illness who will be affected. The social distancing guidelines inhibit the necessary social contact that humans crave. While it is great that technology has been able to compensate in so many ways, there is no replacement for physical contact.

Public funding should also be allocated to mental health resources. Thankfully, some regions have taken effective measures to improve access to these resources at the time. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently waived certain restrictions on their coverage of “telehealth” services, which facilitates the coverage of virtual mental health counseling.

Interestingly, therapists have described the positive effects of these virtual meetings. While there are, of course, certain elements of face-to-face meetings that cannot be replicated in a virtual setting, these meetings have allowed for those with certain conditions, such as agoraphobia, that may struggle with in-person meetings to access therapy.

One psychiatrist in Colorado noted that he saw every client that had been scheduled for the day, which had never happened in his career. At Lyra Health, a mental health startup, the demand for video visits has doubled amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Additionally, many existing web-based therapy platforms such as TalkSpace have become more popular during social distancing. Other apps are available for free on the app store, including MoodTools and Mindstrong Health, which teach mental health coping skills.

While virtual therapy will likely never truly replace face-to-face sessions, it may be a welcome alternative or first step for those for whom in-person therapy may be too anxiety-inducing or inconvenient. 

With an online medium, counselors and clients need not worry about geographical boundaries. Considering the widespread fear at this time, this new type of therapy may enable many more individuals to seek help who may not have been able to before.

For the Fordham community, the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) is available online while face-to-face instruction remains suspended. Virtual walk-ins and ongoing therapy appointments are being conducted by phone or video conferencing and are available to both new clients and those already working with CPS staff.

This time is challenging for college students in particular. As the transition to online classes is now in full swing, our attempts to balance our new normal with assignments and classwork once again is far from an easy task. All these changes can feel intensely overwhelming, whether you were struggling with anxiety prior to this or not.

Fordham University has demonstrated an awareness of this pressure, altering the policy regarding pass/fail courses for the spring 2020 semester. This is a time of stress for both students and professors, who have had to rework their syllabi to match the new online medium.

We encourage anyone who is struggling to reach out for support. There is no shame in asking for help. We urge everyone to gather information on what resources are accessible to them, whether it be state-level initiatives or Fordham’s own counseling. 

Hopefully, the spotlight on mental health right now will demonstrate the need for increased availability of resources in the long-term.

We understand that reading the news can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. At The Fordham Ram, we maintain our dedication to providing accurate information as the situation continues. We encourage all of our readers to take in the information at a comfortable pace and to prioritize their mental state during this time.

At a time like this, we are all grappling with our mental health. Do not be afraid to speak with others about it, whether it is a friend, parent or even a professor. The more we are open about it, the more we will all feel a bit more at ease.