Hally Healthcast: Mental Health and Healthcare: What You Need to Know

Hally® Healthcast is the monthly wellness podcast from Hally health.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so today we have a special panel discussion about this important topic. We’ll talk mental health in general, where to turn for resources, help and support, virtual visits with doctors and therapists and much more.

We have two guests with us today. Dr. John Beck, who specializes in adult, adolescent and child psychiatry at Carle Addiction Recovery Center and Carle Champaign on Mattis, both in Champaign, Illinois. He also provides his knowledge and expertise to Health Alliance™. Also joining us is Cheryl Crowe. She is the vice president of Behavioral Health at OSF HealthCare in central Illinois.

Listen here, or read a quick summary in the article below.

Caitlin Whyte (Host): Welcome to Hally® Healthcast, the monthly wellness podcast from Hally health – your partner in helping you live your healthiest life. Every month on our podcast, we address a new topic important to your health, bringing in expert doctors, nurses, therapists, and specialists who offer advice and answer your most pressing questions.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so today we have a special panel discussion about this important topic. We’ll talk mental health in general, where to turn for resources, help and support, virtual visits with doctors and therapists and much more.

We have two guests with us today. Dr. John Beck, who specializes in adult, adolescent and child psychiatry at Carle Addiction Recovery Center and Carle Champaign on Mattis, both in Champaign, Illinois. He also provides his knowledge and expertise to Health Alliance™. Also joining us is Cheryl Crowe. She is the vice president of Behavioral Health at OSF HealthCare in central Illinois.

Welcome to you both, and thank you so much for being here.

Let’s get started with the very broad question. Ms. Crowe, why is mental health and mental healthcare so important?

Cheryl Crowe, RN, MSN (Guest): Well, I think we’ve found out with this pandemic that just elevated the need for services and the explosion of difficulties that individuals have had. It’s a basic part of your healthcare. You can’t, you know, leave the brain out of the equation.

And the issue is it’s really taking care of yourself, both mentally, physically, emotionally, and mental health is a big part of that. It drives, you know, how we function, and how we reach out and a variety of different things. And it’s just a key component in our wellness.

Host: Dr. Beck, anything from you?

John Beck, MD (Guest): I would just say that when I think about kind of addressing people’s mental health, I think about it in probably pretty broad terms. How is a person functioning in their academic, you know, their schooling or their job-related responsibilities? Are they able to maintain satisfying relationships? Do they have a level of confidence that the future will work out for them? You know, for children and adolescents, the task of being a kid, developing friendships, having relationships with responsible adults, be they teachers or coaches. So it’s kind of this moving forward as a family, as an individual. And if that’s not working, you know, then people will struggle. I think that, you know, the pandemic as Cheryl was saying, has really thrown a light on just how important school is for the kids and the socializing and the activities. And when you take that away and isolate them, they can struggle.

And I think, you know, in general, mental health is critical. I think just for a person’s functioning on a day-to-day basis, but also looking at it from a health plan perspective – and I work in a health plan – if someone has a medical condition, their ability to successfully manage that is directly tied to how they are doing emotionally, you know, their confidence level, their support level, and if they don’t have that, their ability to manage their diabetes or manage whatever medical condition they have does not go as well. And they will struggle more with that. So, I think as a society, we’re appreciating the importance of mental health. And certainly as a health plan, we understand the impact of a person’s mental health and ability to function really impacts everything, all other aspects of their medical care.

Host: Absolutely. And like you both mentioned, it’s so hard to talk about mental healthcare without talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what specifically should we know and be doing to take care of our own mental health and the well-being of others during such difficult, unprecedented times? Dr. Beck we can start with you.

Dr. Beck: Yeah. I think that the pandemic has led to, you know, just for many of us, unprecedented changes. You know, you have a degree of uncertainty in your personal life, in your society’s cultural life, the social isolation, parental angst, really, you know, for kids in particular, it can be a real struggle. I mean, I think for parents you know, are they going to keep their jobs or people are working from home and their kids are having to work from home, too. You have parents with vastly expanded responsibility: you’re supposed to juggle your job, you’re also supposed to manage, make sure your kid is staying on their, you know, their virtual classroom and the uncertainty of when is this going to end?

And, you know, for kids, as I was saying earlier, you know, one of the tasks of being a kid is successfully navigating friendships, relationships with coaches and teachers and things like that. And so much of that is just been put on hold that I think has been a real unsettling time in many regards. And I think some kids, you know, will do well with virtual school and some don’t. You know, some just don’t really do well with that format. And it’s not like well, they just did it for a few months. I mean, we’re going into our second year of this now. And I think that it’s amazing. I don’t think anybody really anticipated it would be going on this long.

Host: I know I sure didn’t. And Ms. Crowe, any tips from you about the pandemic and mental health?

Ms. Crowe: Yeah, I think from our perspective, just like Dr. Beck said, communication for us is a behavioral health intervention. And so that isolation that we’ve experienced, whether you’re a child or an adult is not, you know, it’s not conducive really to our health. So, really reaching out and having some experiences, you know, as a family, as a friendship, as a partner, as a community are really important, too. We need to pay attention to our physical health. And we know that we’ve seen changes during the pandemic: sleep, nutrition, hydration. Those are all key things that we need to pay attention to and supporting both our family members and our children in a calming and connecting way. Right now, being at home, it was a blessing when the dance studios and the groups – social media groups – got online to do some virtual sessions, because at least there was some sense of connectedness.

It’s not the same, but it’s something. And I think another thing we need to watch with each other is really your immersement in social media, because that can be a blessing and a curse. It’s a way to stay connected on one hand. On the other hand, there’s a lot of trauma and tragedy expressed during that vehicle, too. So, you know, it’s important to limit your time with that and really checking in with each other, communicating effectively, reaching out, making sure you’re taking care of yourself physically. We’re seeing those lack of that activity really ratcheting up some of the risk factors for mental health, for these individuals who are physically not healthy, becoming emotionally less healthy. So, it’s important to really pay attention to all those facets.

Host: Yes. Thank you. And moving on Dr. Beck, we often think of mental health in general, anxiety, stress, depression, all of these things in the context of adults. But tell us about the mental and emotional well-being of children and adolescents and why that’s so important.

Dr. Beck: Well, I think, I think it’s critical because like you said, the adults are often, it’s more obvious because adults will talk about it. But I think kids often don’t talk about it. And so you’re left with trying to maybe guess or interpret what you’re seeing. But as I was saying, it’s a very difficult time for kids. I mean, kids this you know, I have grandchildren who are –  five grandchildren. And I have a two year old grandson and they refer to him as the “COVID baby” because he hasn’t really socialized really with any other kids. And they were just kinda, my daughter was just kind of laughing about it like, “yeah, he’s the ‘COVID baby,’ you know.” Like even if you go to a playground and there’s other kids playing, the kids just kinda, you know, my grandchildren will kind of get these wide eyes like, “oh, well we’re not supposed to play with them, but we want to, but we can’t.”

And so it’s really an uncertain time. And I think reflecting on what Cheryl was saying, I think it’s real important for the adults to be very calming and reassuring because even if we’re not feeling entirely sure what’s going to happen, I think it’s important that we remain predictable and stable for the kids so that they can understand, but also be very tuned into your kids.

I think there has been some good things to come out of the pandemic. I think the more people working from home, I think actually probably has been good for a lot of people. You’re with your family more or the families dependent on each other more, you know. You know, you don’t have kids going off to multiple activities or parents going here and there. I mean, everybody’s been kind of stuck together, which is new and probably stressful, but it’s not necessarily all bad either. I mean, I think people will come out of this with some good memories of things they did together as a family that maybe they wouldn’t have done if there wouldn’t have been a pandemic.

Host: So interesting to think about the kids who really don’t know what life is like outside of COVID at this point. And Ms. Crowe any thoughts?

Ms. Crowe: I agree with everything Dr. Beck said. I think it’s paying attention to each other, not only our children and helping normalize in some way this experience. And remember too, you mentioned blessings and I think that’s there as we’re around each other, remember that, that physical affection at home and that discussion is important and not only for children, but reaching out to those elder individuals in our environments, they are also very isolated and have experienced a great deal of loss. So, making that continued connection with them is really vital for their safety and their health as well.

Dr. Beck: Yeah, I would agree with what Cheryl’s saying there, because you know, you’re looking at kids, you’re looking at kind of parents, but also the older adults who have really experienced, some of them, an unprecedented level of isolation because kids and grandkids don’t necessarily want to be around them or didn’t want to be around them because “well, we don’t want to give them COVID,” you know, because they’re a high risk population. And I think the rollout of the vaccine has helped. Although there, I think there’s some uncertainty with that, just with the different virus variants and what that means and how do you roll out and when do you actually start seeing people again?

So, it raises questions in addition to opportunities, but yeah, the older adults, this is you know, this has been very trying for them also, and probably more isolating for them because a lot of them don’t have a job they’re calling into. They just have lost a lot of social contact.

Host: Good point. Yeah. Now, with all of this in mind, knowing how vital mental health and well-being is for all of us, like you both said, at any age, why is it so important – we’ll start with you, Ms. Crowe – that everyone has equal access to mental health care resources and treatments?

Ms. Crowe: Well, I think it, it doesn’t matter what your position is in life. We’re all going through some of the same struggles. It may look different in different families and different socioeconomic groups, but the need is still there. The need for that communication, that connection, paying attention to our signs and symptoms, and what we’re struggling with I think is a key point for the whole group and really finding you know, the meaningful things that we have in life and really reconnecting with those, whether it’s supporting each other, doing good work, some volunteering.

And I know we can’t always embed ourselves into environments we were before, but collecting food and being generous and reaching out with kindness, I think those are all healing initiatives. So, I think for individuals who are struggling, maybe that’s a way to pivot and really just grow and support each other.

Host: Absolutely, now more than ever, right? And turning to you, Dr. Beck. I want to talk a little about virtual visits and how these expand access to mental health help. You know, virtual visits have been all the rage quite a bit during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a lot of people still only think of them in terms of their physical health needs. So, can you tell us how virtual visits are often ideal for mental health needs too, and how they make getting help easy and accessible?

Dr. Beck: I think you make a really good point here because you know, working from a health plan perspective, we have been trying to engage our members in accessing virtual behavioral health services with pretty limited results. You know, people were kind of sticking to the traditional bricks and mortar, which is a little problematic with behavioral health because you’re often looking at a lack of providers, wait times, you know, if you’re in a rural community, you might have to drive a long distance, to even find someone to see, and then you might have to wait some time to get in, to see them. One bright spot of the pandemic is it has just, it was a sea change in terms of the utilization of virtual health literally overnight, you know, it went from a very small percent of care was being provided virtually to dramatic increases. And I think that’s one of the good thing that’s going to come out of this has really pushed that – I think it was going to happen to any way, but I think it was probably going to happen over a period of years – whereas now literally it happened almost overnight.

And I think from when you’re looking at virtual behavioral health, part of what we saw with this too is, through the State of Illinois, kind of some of the legislative guidance there, that the health plan relaxed, all the health plans relaxed what constituted a virtual visit. You know, historically you couldn’t do a telephone visit and have that be considered reimbursable for a provider. Well, now you can. So, I think it’s really opened up the opportunity for people to get their behavioral health services online and really get access to the entire spectrum of care. And that can be either done the typical bricks and mortar providers, who are now who went to virtual and who even after the pandemic will likely keep a portion of their care provided virtually, to Telehealth services like Health Alliance through Hally health has a virtual behavioral health provider, and you know, literally the whole spectrum of providers. And I think when you’re looking at behavioral health, you know, there’s been barriers for people getting their care in the past. Some of it is just access, you know, having the availability, the providers or being able to get in to see them in a timely way. And I think that this has really been an opportunity for people to get behavioral healthcare.

Oh, and the other thing is the stigma. I think a lot of times people were reluctant to walk into that bricks and mortar behavioral health provider, you know, like, “well, what if somebody sees me” or “what if I see a colleague” or you know, it’s, “it’s embarrassing; I shouldn’t have these problems.” And I think we can certainly talk regarding the stigma, but I think behavioral health services really helps address that. If somebody wants to get care that they feel like they really want to, privacy is critical for them, then virtual behavioral health really provides that for them. They can get the care they need in, in really the utmost private setting.

Host: Yeah. You know, for me personally, I’ve found it a lot easier to chat with my therapist online, just on my couch. I’m comfy. I have my cat. Just makes it a little easier.

And finally, I want to wrap up today’s discussion with the most important question of all. If someone listening, or one of their loved ones is struggling with mental or emotional difficulties, what can they do? Where can they start? What support and treatment options are available and what would your advice be for them? Ms. Crowe, we’ll let you begin.

Ms. Crowe: I think it’s important to recognize those issues. Talk with your loved ones, if you’re comfortable doing that. Reach out for services. I know, you know, from our perspective, just at my health system and there are many others out there too who provides this support. We not only have the virtual services that you talked about, we have technology support all through our website at OSF HealthCare. We have an accessible app. It’s called SilverCloud. It’s a cognitive behavioral therapy app and anybody can sign up for it. There is no charge. And through that process, if you get involved in some of those depression and anxiety and grief and support features, in the background for us are behavioral health navigators. So, they can look and if somebody’s scoring high on a depression screening, they can actually call those individuals or send them an email and say, “hey, are you doing okay? Do you need a referral? Should I call you next week?” Just that connection right now is so important. And I think that even talking with your primary provider about resources is helpful. I know one thing we’ve done – and we’re not alone in this, this is a national initiative really – is to integrate behavioral health folks directly in the office for all the reasons that were stated before. You know, there is no stigma walking into your doctor’s office and if your therapist is in there, nobody in a waiting room or any place else knows why you’re there for that session. And I think all of those things are important and to really maintain those connections because they are vital for our health.

Host: Yeah. All absolutely incredible ideas. Dr. Beck, anything to add any final thoughts?

Dr. Beck: No, I would just echo what Cheryl said. I think, you know, OSF has really been a leader in this, in that regards, in terms of the online platforms, which I think is really important, particularly as people get increasingly comfortable, you know, going online for nearly anything they’re doing. I think it’s just kind of a natural. I think I agree with her too, in terms of reaching out to your primary care doc, you know, for yourself or for a family member, if you say “gee, I think something’s going on I’m concerned about,” I think the primary care provider can be a very good first start in terms of get their opinion. What do they think? Did they have anybody that they could recommend for you to see or kind of how to start?

I think that can be a little daunting and there’s certainly been studies to show that it’s a period of five or six years often before people actually get help for mental health issues because of maybe denial or not knowing how to tap into the system. And so people often have struggled with something for a long time before they actually start getting help. So, and also her point about embedded behavioral health providers. I mean, that’s also a great idea because then if you know, if you’re a primary care provider and you’re seeing somebody and you think that they may need some support, it’s so much easier to say, “gee, well, I’ve got Bill or Susie down the hall and they can talk to you right now for a couple of minutes and they can schedule something in the future with you.’ You know, that has a lot better chance of happening than if you say, “well, here’s a phone number and there’s a bricks and mortar place you can call and they’ll see you in four weeks.” I mean, the chance of people keeping that you know, appointment even is very small. So, I think the embedded behavioral health providers in primary care settings are just a wonderful thing.

Host: Well, just so much helpful advice packed into this episode. Thank you both so much for taking time out of your busy schedules to talk with us today, and for all you do to care for the well-being of so many people throughout our communities. That concludes today’s Hally Healthcast. Tune in next month when we discuss yet another important topic to your health and well-being.

Hally health is your partner in helping you live your healthiest life. Visit hally.com for resources, information, tips, and much more. Let us help keep you and your family healthy and well. Thanks for listening. We hope you tune in next month.

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