Treatment for Serious Mental Illness in a Pandemic


COVID-19 presented new challenges that have taken a toll on our mental health. Nearly half of U.S. adults say their mental health has been negatively impacted during the pandemic. According to Melissa L. Farrell, Managing Director of Clinical Operations of Spectrum Health and Human Services, “As the pandemic wears on, the mental health burden has increased due to social distancing leading to greater isolation and distress, and we are seeing a greater impact on those living with a serious mental illness (SMI), such as schizophrenia, and finding ways to respond rapidly to help ensure that people living with SMIs get the ongoing services, support, and care they need.

* Increased adoption of telepsychiatry platforms: Telepsych applies telemedicine to psychiatry, allowing people to see their psychiatrist or psychologist, engage in therapy/counseling, and maintain their treatment regimen while complying with social distancing guidelines. For those without access to video software, audio-only contact is also available, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reimburse for some phone-only sessions. Adoption of telepsych has grown rapidly across the country, helping patients, including those in rural and urban communities.

* Adjustments to treatment options: Initial pandemic restrictions made it challenging for people to see their providers in person. While in person visits have resumed, we encourage patients to talk to their provider about current treatment regimens and whether other treatment options may be appropriate. For example, long acting injectables (LAIs) are now recommended in guidance from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration (SAMHSA) for their potential role in supporting continuity of care.

* Expanded patient access and support services: Recognizing the importance of helping patients stay engaged in treatment during the pandemic, the healthcare industry explored ways to ensure patients have continued access to medications. Patients who use LAIs, for example, may now be able to get their injections at pharmacies or clinics in their community. The expansion of these services helps ensure accessibility of ongoing treatment during this crisis. Also, federal guidelines have eased some requirements on in-person visits for medication prescribing and some insurers may waive the required timeframe between medication refills. Please make sure to consult with your healthcare provider and individual insurer for information about refill frequency. Those struggling to pay for medications as a result of COVID-19 and its economic impacts may also have access to support services to help with prescription costs.

Spectrum Health continues to provide support, and strives to find innovative ways to ensure safe delivery of services to individuals with chronic conditions and SMIs. Contact us to determine what services and treatment options we offer will meet your needs. Additional peer support is available through the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA), which host online discussion groups for individuals with SMI and their loved ones.

To make an immediate appointment with one of our clinicians in one of our many locations throughout Western New York, call 716-539-5500 and visit Spectrum Health’s comprehensive services include mental health and addiction counseling, crisis response, opiate dependency, care coordination, vocational services, and more. 


Article Sources: Brandpoint Media and Spectrum Health and Human Services