By Dr Simon Bourne, founder and CEO of my mhealth (www.mymhealth.com)
The pandemic has seen care homes coming under incredible strain and pressure. From limited resources, staff and patients falling sick and the impact of residents not seeing friends or family for almost a year, the consequences have taken a toll on emotional wellbeing across the UK.
COVID-19 cases have worsened not only patients and staff health but also their mental wellbeing too. Social isolation and little interaction have been detrimental, and the invisibility of the mental burden has meant treatment has been less urgent and under-resourced. We need to reach people quicker to help stop the pandemic leaving a lasting legacy on both care staff and patients.
Homes and operators have been some of the worst hit by the virus. Daily bad news, weekly changing guidelines and little time with loved ones have driven fear of the unknown. We must look at the lasting effects of this on both the mind and body.
Carers play an essential role in keeping our vulnerable and elderly safe. Without the necessary support for their mental wellbeing, we are losing a vital function for those in need of care. The past year has thrust these individuals into the role of the carer, friend and family member whilst restrictions have limited contact with loved ones. This has been profoundly felt by health workers who are themselves suffering stress, anxiety and burn out. Providing the care sector with simple, accessible help based on cognitive behavioural therapy will drive recovery as we adjust to the ‘new normal’.
There is no denying society’s recovery will take time. The effort and investment must start now. We are in the midst of an intense period of demand for help for those encountering difficulties with their mental health. To address this, we must look at how to mitigate overwhelming the already strained NHS service. Capitalising on the use of digital therapy to nurture the recovery of the residential and care sector at scale will be fundamental in moving forward.
The integration of technology to support the diagnosis and treatment of mental health is long-awaited – not only by the residential and care industry but society at large. Technology can work quickly to present users with answers to specific questions, helping to analyse the issues they may be battling.
Apps developed to help with anxiety, for example, are extremely promising, as they provide patients with instant, continuous support at their fingertips. That said, while digital health is tackling these issues, there is still work to do and improvements made.
To ensure that patients receive optimum mental health care, they must have access to the right information. Mental health diagnosis requires intrinsic questioning and an in-depth discussion. Technology can offer respite when services lack the capacity and resilience to provide patients with interventions at short notice.
Keeping residents and staff engaged through digital therapy will help to mitigate poor mental health. Offering highly effective support and guidance delivered at a pace determined by the individual will play a substantial role in helping people manage their recovery.
We must address the issues present in the residential and care sector while staff and patients are still suffering. The government now needs to prioritise nursing homes and caregivers. Offering the care sector the support to navigate the mental impact of the pandemic will make or break as we begin to physically and mentally rebuild beyond the pandemic.