Shutdowns, while critical in mitigating the spread of COVID-19, have been reshaping the fabric of human society. We’ve largely been confined to our homes, limiting the human connection we normally experience day-to-day. Some of us have lost our jobs, while others are feeling burnout from working harder than ever to keep their organizations afloat. During these times, it’s natural to feel stressed, anxious and lonely.

A few weeks ago, we talked about the waves of the pandemic and why it’s important to not delay necessary care. This pandemic is impacting our health in a number of different ways: people are getting sick with COVID-19, others have serious conditions that are going untreated due to the fear of going to hospitals for help, and we will begin to see the impact of putting off preventive visits that screen for cancer and other illnesses. We’re also now feeling the fourth wave, which has the potential to be more serious than the others. This fourth wave — the mental health wave caused by isolation, economic injury, loss and stress — could result in a prolonged period of heightened depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt, substance abuse and physical abuse.

Mental illness is already extremely prevalent in the U.S., with one in five Americans experiencing a mental illness at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, only 43% of those adults receive treatment. In fact, the average delay between symptom onset and treatment is 11 years. At Forward, we recognize that mental health is equally important as physical health. Primary care is frequently the first line of defense when it comes to identifying signs of an illness, and we strive to play that role in helping our members track trends in behavior to take action before a more serious condition has time to develop.

Every Forward member has access to the Mental Health Assessment in their app. Through a short series of questions, we evaluate for feelings of depression and anxiety. We encourage members to take the assessment even when they’re feeling well so that we have a healthy baseline. Concerning results will prompt the Forward Care Team to reach out to connect in person. One in four Forward members have used the mental health feature to connect with their Care Team during this pandemic, and while there has been a noticeable increase in mental health symptoms, we’ve been able to proactively provide proper care, guidance and medications to our members.

Here are a few tips from our doctors:

  • Get moving: Exercise stimulates hormones including dopamine and serotonin that boost your mood and raise energy levels.
  • Try meditation: Guided meditation can help you relax and focus on the present. Our doctors recommend apps like Calm and Headspace as they have programs for beginners and experts alike.
  • Stay rested: Sleep deprivation and mental illness are closely linked. Try getting into a sleep routine, where you get in bed at the same time every day and take specific steps to get a full 8 hours of sleep.
  • Write your worries: Sometimes anxiety can be caused by all the thoughts you are trying to keep track of in your head. Write down a list of your worries so you can stop thinking about them.
  • Get help: There are a number of great resources if you are in need. National Help Hotline is available 24/7, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has a great blog repository, and your primary care doctor should be your first step in getting care.

Since we wrote this article, we’ve learned a great deal about how COVID-19 affects mental health. Nearly two years into the pandemic, our COVID-19 Care Program has helped our members stay up-to-date on new and emerging science. We offer prevention programming as well as the COVID vaccine, treatment, assessments, and stress management clinics for better mental health. This program is open to all members and can help you stay safe as the pandemic continues and evolves.

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