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Affordable mental health care for employees and their children

May 28, 2020

While the physical effects of COVID-19 are considerable, the pandemic’s threat to our mental health should not be discounted. To support the Washington University community during these stressful times, the WashUDirect Psychiatry service offers convenient, affordable mental health care for employees and their children.

The uncertainty, fear and isolation caused by the global pandemic are daunting, said Emily Mukherji, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry. “It is very important that people are aware of the strains of this pandemic, look out for warning signs of mental health problems, and take steps to improve their mental health.”

WUDirect Psychiatry provides expedited access to psychiatry and psychotherapy services — appointments are scheduled within two weeks — and a reduced co-pay. Sessions currently are provided via telehealth using a HIPAA-compliant version of Zoom, and all medical records are private. “Your boss and colleagues will not know about your appointments with WUDirect Psychiatry, just like they would not know about other medical appointments,” Mukherji said. “It can be challenging to find a psychiatrist or psychotherapist in the St. Louis community at this time. We are hoping that this will be a valuable service and contribute to our employees’ overall health and well-being.”

It’s the type of support that can benefit the whole family, as parents and children alike adjust to their “new un-normal,” said Seth Rosen, MD, chief clinical fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry. “People are often so busy being parents and employees, they’ll let their own mental health go by the wayside,” he said. “But anxiety is contagious. You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first – show kids it’s OK to have these fears and that there are appropriate ways to cope.”

Providers are seeing an increased need for pediatric services across the spectrum of psychiatric care. Children with existing behavioral issues, such as ADHD, might find their symptoms exacerbated by the pandemic’s stresses. But no child is immune.

“It’s a shock to their whole lives — being pulled out of school, away from their peer groups,” Rosen said.

He emphasizes that a child’s worries may differ from his or her parents’; the struggle for children to verbalize those fears can make it more difficult for parents to help. Other factors, such as misinformation from peer groups, can further muddy the waters. It’s enough to make any parent feel helpless.

“We talk to parents about the importance of establishing new routines,” Rosen said.

“While parents might focus on how well they’re helping their children with school work, it’s the emotional curriculum – not the math – that has the greatest impact on kids’ well-being.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact lives in the months — and possibly years — ahead, Rosen and Mukherji said adults and children can benefit from many of the same things: keeping a schedule, adequate sleep, healthy eating, regular exercise, socializing (virtually) with friends and family, minimizing alcohol, limiting news/social media, and finding time for hobbies.

But for some, feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability, hopelessness or fear may persist.

“Many people may also notice difficulty concentrating, lower motivation, fatigue, difficulty with sleep, or an increase in substance use,” Mukherji said. “If these symptoms become longstanding, are affecting your relationships, or are making it hard to function in your life, then it is time to reach out for help.

“Often mental health conditions respond well to early intervention and regular, consistent treatment. On nearly a daily basis I will hear patients say that they wish they had sought treatment sooner, that they wish they hadn’t suffered for as long as they did.”

To schedule an appointment, please call 314-286-1700. Visit the human resources website to learn more about mental health care and resources.