Mental Health and the Coronavirus Pandemic

CBSN Bay Area discusses the additional challenges facing the mental health system due to the pandemic – and what’s being done to address those challenges.

Video Transcript

MICHELLE GRIEGO: The mental health system is facing some serious challenges due to the pandemic. And Mark Cloutier is the CEO of Caminar. It's a nonprofit based in San Mateo that provides support services to thousands of people.

It's good to see you. Thanks so much for talking with us today. So first tell us about the growing challenges you're facing these days.

MARK CLOUTIER: Michelle, thanks for having me on. And COVID-19 has created a number of challenges, not only for the health care system, but for mental health in our country. And just to create some context, even before COVID-19 it was estimated in a recent study by "Lancet" that the cost to the US economy if untreated or undertreated mental health was about $1 trillion.

So even before COVID, we were missing lots of opportunities to restore people to health and wellness by providing adequate mental health and drug treatment services. COVID has actually complicated that. You look at a variety of surveys and in general, the level of anxiety and depressive disorders have gone up anywhere from two to four times what they were before the epidemic.

There's a lot of people, in particular younger people, in particular females, who are experiencing lasting effects that have come from COVID-19.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: So what steps are being taken to address these challenges?

MARK CLOUTIER: So one of the things that has been useful in the epidemic that we really beefed up and used successfully is the use of telehealth. I think, you know, because people were not able to come in to have clinic visits. There was a need to be able to reach people and to conduct therapy and to conduct intake and to provide services through telephone and through Zoom, through RingCentral. And we found it to be enormously successful.

And many of our clients actually like it. And I can imagine for a number of them they're going to want to continue to get their care through telehealth. So the flip side of COVID-19 is it's created an opportunity to innovate a bit.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: Right. Do you think that people feel more comfortable using the technology than maybe going in person?

MARK CLOUTIER: It's a good question. I think some information suggests that there is a higher level of comfort. It's hard to take out the factor of being exposed and infectiousness as being a part of what's driving this current trend. But I do think the ease of not having to travel, the ease of being able to be in your own home in a natural setting where you're getting care as opposed to being in an artificial setting all supports better outcomes.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: Talk about if you do not address this mental health issue and you're experiencing something like that, what that can do to you.

MARK CLOUTIER: Well, the long term effects are probably not good. And you know, I go back to what the two primary symptoms are that people are experiencing, which is anxiety and depression. And we know both of those things can affect your ability to show up at work, to be focused, to be productive, to be able to participate in relationships, in your marriage. To be able to participate in going to school and concentrating.

So it's going to be very important that as our solution to COVID-19-- getting people vaccinated, getting people back to work, back to school-- that we also pay attention to treating the longer term mental health effects. So that when people come back, they're ready to be back and they're ready to do their best work.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: Anything else you want people to know?

MARK CLOUTIER: We just want to put out a particular plea about younger adults. I think that this has been particularly hard on them, the surveys show that. And that there's a way in which fear about climate change and challenges around the resolution of what happens with COVID-19 have contributed particularly to feelings of hopelessness. And I think we have to figure out a way to build a more hopeful future for young adults and for everyone.

MICHELLE GRIEGO: Good point. Mark Cloutier, thank you so much.

MARK CLOUTIER: My pleasure, Michelle, thank you for having me.