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How to Find a Therapist During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Other Mental Health Options

May 13, 2020
Teen Vogue
Dr. Susan McClanahan, founder of Insight, speaks to Teen Vogue about how to find a therapist and other resources to support your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

BY SAMMY NICKALLS

May 12, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic can have a harsh mental health toll as a result of social distancing and isolation — not to mention the impact it can have for frontline workers. So, this Mental Health Awareness Month, Teen Vogue is highlighting both the struggles we face and the ways we're coping. As we collectively manage our mental health during this challenge, remember that it's OK to not be OK — and that help is always available. 

If you’ve had a particularly hard time with your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, know this: You’re not alone, even if it feels that way. Instead of experiencing formative coming-of-age moments like prom and graduation, some young people find themselves grappling with issues like the fear they'll never recover after the COVID-19 crisis, or reemerging disordered eating patterns triggered by the crisis. Some are struggling with the complicated emotional toll of learning in isolation, while others are experiencing grief of all kinds. Given all that, it’s no wonder why Carolina Vidal, M.D., M.P.H, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine, is expecting mental health needs to continue to rise.

Vidal, who works largely with children and adolescents, said that since the start of the pandemic, she’s noticed social distancing has taken quite a toll on some students. "[For] those children and adolescents with problems at home, such as those exposed to interpersonal violence or lack of resources, the exposure to those experiences is now greater," she explained, adding that schools' transition to online learning has been bumpy and stressful for many students. "They don't have easy access to support from peers, other family members, or school teachers and administrators.”

The importance of getting help when you need it

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted at the end of March, 45 percent of Americans surveyed felt that the coronavirus was harming their mental health,—and while it's difficult to keep up-to-date hard numbers in real time, it's likely that percentage has only increased since then, given the uncertainty of it all

"I have noticed symptoms such as difficulty concentrating [and] negative rumination, as well as feelings of helplessness and hopelessness for many individuals," clinical psychologist Susan McClanahan, president and founder of Insight Behavioral Health Centers, told Teen Vogue. “I have also seen many examples of courage and resilience.”

That’s exactly what asking for help is: an example of courage and resilience. While seeking mental health treatment can be scary, you’re actively choosing to keep pursuing the light during a dark time.

Unfortunately, complicating matters are factors both old (insurance) and new (social distancing). That’s why we spoke to experts to give you the best tips on finding help during the pandemic, whether it's how to find a therapist or seeking out a support group. Getting help is possible, and you deserve it.

Teletherapy and How to Find a Therapist

It may feel like the whole world is on pause right now, but many therapists, psychologists, and other mental health providers are still taking on new clients from the comfort of their own homes. Under social distancing guidelines, the vast majority of practices have shifted to teletherapy, or online sessions usually conducted through Doxy, Zoom for Healthcare, or other HIPAA-compliant video platforms.

If you have insurance, the best way to find out if your provider is offering teletherapy is to call the number on the back of your insurance card, as every provider and plan is different. However, the odds are in your favor, said McClanahan: “Almost all major commercial insurance companies are now covering virtual intensive outpatient and virtual partial hospitalization programs. That’s new for most payers.”

In what McClanahan describes as an “equally as impactful” move, more states are changing their regulations to allow for more virtual care.

“With the increased need for more mental health options in this stressful time, it’s important that providers are able to reach more people where they are,” she said. 

While it’s important to note that “it is unclear what insurance companies will do after the pandemic,” Vidal acknowledged that “what is clear is that the government has loosened the restrictions during the pandemic,” allowing providers to get “creative about the use of telehealth and clinical services allowing various platforms.”

“Professionals are planning to lobby to keep some of [these] changes in place after the pandemic is resolved,” Vidal added.

If you don't have insurance, or your insurance doesn't cover what you need, mental health directories like those from Psychology Today can help you search for sliding-scale therapists in your area who could make out-of-pocket costs more affordable. If you have one, you can also talk to your primary care physician to get recommendations, or you can contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine, which can help you find an affordable clinic in your area.

Therapy Apps

If traditional therapy still isn’t an option for you, or if you just want to try something different, you could try an online therapy app like Talkspace. (You wouldn’t be the only one: The app recently reported a 65% jump in clients since mid-February, according to The Washington Post.)

There are myriad apps, many of them fairly affordable, and “some of them very good in terms of the services they provide,” Vidal acknowledged. The app that’s right for you depends on what your comfort levels and your needs; however, enter the therapy app waters with a degree of caution, she highlighted: Make sure the app is providing “an evidence-based type of therapy, or at least an adaptation that is supported by evidence.”

“[I]t is important to be mindful of the type of therapist and the type of therapy that is provided,” Vidal told Teen Vogue. “A licensed therapist can range from a PhD-level psychologist with many years of studies, training in critical thinking and clinical experience, to a therapist who has just received a few months of counseling training. These differences in expertise can determine the type of treatment received.”

Virtual Support Groups

If all of this is a bit overwhelming, and you’re seeking a lower-commitment, affordable way to find support, finding a community online may be a good option for you, suggests McClanahan.

“I would recommend seeking out free virtual support groups, as many nonprofits and organizations have increased frequency and access to groups,” she told Teen Vogue. “ … These can be a great way to find connection and support safely from home.”

While information gleaned from them should never be taken as medical advice, online support groups and forums from reputable organizations allow for anonymity and can be a good way to explore resources specific to your individual needs.

The right support group for you depends heavily on what you need, nonprofits and mental health organizations like NAMI and Mental Health America (MHA) are great places to start.

Crisis Lines

Above all, know this: There’s always someone waiting to help you, no matter what. If you need help and you don’t know where to turn, crisis lines are always a free option. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). If you prefer to keep it to text, you can send Crisis Text Line a message at 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.

In the meantime, remember that while the weight of the world seems all-encompassing, your needs matter, too. It’s OK to ask for help if you need it, whether that’s asking loved ones, a therapist, or a crisis line.

"[A]lthough this pandemic seems to be never-ending, there are professionals out there working on serving those in need for mental health services," Vidal said.

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