Three years since COVID-19 first shut down the US, what have we learned about mental health?

By Regence
March 20, 2023
video call with grandparents

The pandemic disrupted our daily lives in ways we could never imagine. Health care systems were overwhelmed, schools and offices were closed, and we were encouraged to avoid other people. While COVID-19 may not dominate headlines today, it has taken a significant toll on our mental health.

According to a recent study from Pew Research Center, at least 41% of U.S. adults experienced high levels of psychological distress at least once since the early stages of the pandemic. The same study noted 58% of young adults ages 18 to 29 experienced high levels of psychological distress at least once between March 2020 and September 2022.

As many of us continue to navigate these unprecedented times and adjust to the new reality of COVID-19 in our lives, it’s important to reflect on some of the valuable lessons we’ve learned to improve our mental health.

Stay connected

Social isolation has been linked to elevated levels of anxiety and depression during the pandemic. The World Health Organization reported that COVID-19 triggered a startling 25% increase in the global rates of anxiety and depression in its first year.

Feelings of isolation and loneliness were exacerbated by guidelines that hampered our ability to be around friends and family, socialize with coworkers and attend classes with peers. Human beings are social by nature and have a need to connect. Many of us learned to maintain meaningful connections through video chats and virtual events, as well as by making simple phone calls.

Prioritize your well-being

Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. During the pandemic, many people were at home without their familiar coping strategies like getting together with friends or exercising at the gym. The concept of self-care emerged as an act of taking the time to care for one’s self mentally and physically.

We’ve learned that practicing self-care can help people feel more in control during times when so much is out of their control. Saying yes to healthy stress relievers like going for a walk or getting enough sleep can help manage stress and improve well-being. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists several different ways to manage stress, anxiety, grief and worry.

It’s okay to not be okay

The pandemic created an opportunity to lessen the stigma associated with seeking care to improve one’s mental health. Many celebrities like Selena Gomez and athletes like Naomi Osaka used their fame to bring awareness of mental health issues to the forefront and remind those who are struggling that they’re not alone.

As more people turn to their own social media channels to talk about their emotional struggles, the stigma that surrounds it can begin to fade. Mental health is a continuum and where people fall on that continuum can change during stressful times. We’ve learned that if someone’s mental well-being isn’t as good as it can be, asking for help is a sign of strength.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shares nine ways to fight mental health stigma.  

Virtual care is here to stay

The pandemic prevented many people from visiting health care professionals in person, and as a result, telehealth became more widely adopted. A new study published in JAMA Health Forum confirms that the first year of the pandemic was associated with a dramatic increase in telehealth services for mental health conditions. This offset the sharp decline in in-person care and supported overall higher rates of care for several mental health conditions. 

Virtual care has been especially helpful in meeting patient needs for behavioral health care, including improved access to care. Since there is no need to travel to a specific location for a virtual visit, treatment can occur wherever is most convenient, like the comfort of home. This is helpful for people who live far from providers or who have mobility issues where leaving home creates a barrier to receiving care.

We’re here to help

If you or your loved one needs emotional support or mental health care, we can help you find the behavioral health care option that fits your needs. Most of our health plans offer virtual mental health treatment options from providers such as AbleTo Therapy+, Doctor on Demand, Talkspace, Charlie Health and more. No referral is needed – you can visit the provider website and fill out their intake form for an appointment.

In addition to the broad range of traditional and virtual mental health providers, most Regence members have access to specialized behavioral health care for those seeking help for eating disorders (Equip) and obsessive-compulsive disorders (nOCD).

Regence also has help for those dealing with substance abuse such as Boulder Care, Eleanor Health (WA only) and Hazelden Betty Ford. If your employer has an employee assistance program (EAP), your use of the program is confidential and at low or no cost.

We encourage you to visit these providers’ websites or call our customer service team at the number listed on your member ID card to verify which virtual care and traditional behavioral health options are available through your health plan.