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Treating mental health in the time of a global health crisis

Photo: Nicholas Dimond • The Sentry

Digital resources for those experiencing mental distress

Living through a global pandemic makes accessing mental healthcare more important than ever. While seeing a therapist may seem difficult given the circumstances, multiple resources on and off campus are still actively providing desperately needed mental health services.

According to a study conducted in China regarding the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in COVID-19 survivors, 96.2% of respondents claimed to have symptoms of PTSD. Factors include isolation, uncertainty and fear of spreading the virus. While this study focused on COVID-19 patients, symptoms of trauma or other mental upset easily occur in those not infected with the illness. As the country socially isolates, and as much of the news nowadays is difficult to digest, many are susceptible to feelings of loneliness, despair and fear.

While in-person therapy may not be possible under social distancing guidelines, licensed therapists and counselors are still working hard. At CU Denver, the Counseling Center is still offering remote counseling. These services are free for students and available at a low cost for community members outside of CU Denver. They also offer testing and assessment services. For those interested in pursuing counseling outside of the university, most therapists have begun to offer remote services, though these may be difficult to obtain due to high demand.

But seeing a therapist is not the only way to improve mental health. Just like everything else in the 21st century, there’s an app for that. One of the foundational elements of therapy is simply talking out problems. Many choose to see therapists just to have someone to talk to. With the rise in artificial intelligence technology, many are turning to chatbot services like Woebot. Woebot essentially offers cognitive behavioral therapy for its users, an evidence-based strategy focused on problem solving, allowing users to share their thoughts before analyzing them and offering collaborative solutions.

Additionally, apps centered around offering various coping mechanisms are a great resource for those experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Calm Harm focuses on coping mechanisms used to alleviate self-harm urges. The app features a variety of techniques, including breathing exercises and distraction tactics, like counting patterns. Developed by Dr. Nihara Krause, a clinical psychologist, Calm Harm uses dialectical behavioral therapy, an evidence-based technique frequently used to curb impulsive behaviors.

Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of mental distress regarding the current global pandemic. For many, the amount of uncertainty leads to intense symptoms of anxiety, including racing thoughts, feelings of being overwhelmed and sleeping difficulties. One of the most popular meditation apps, Insight Timer, offers guided meditations for free. While there’s an option for general meditation, users can also select from meditations used to curb anxiety, increase positivity and help fall asleep.

Apps and artificial intelligence technology are great resources for those in need of basic mental healthcare; however, they are not a replacement for traditional therapy or medical intervention. But the 21st century lends itself to a plethora of digital resources. Even a quick Google search for tips to help alleviate symptoms can do a world of good for those experiencing newfound stress.

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