The coronavirus pandemic has become an unprecedented event in history. It has strained the communities and businesses we love, not to mention the people that fill them. Recently, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 45 percent of adults say the worry and stress of COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health. And as the effects of the crisis continue to play out, there may be heightened moments of loneliness and fear.
But even homebound, it’s still possible—and essential—to take care of your mental health, no matter your budget or situation. Below, a few ways to do just that.
How can I start therapy now?
If you were attending in-person therapy prior to the lockdowns, you might already be communicating with your therapist through phone or video chat. If you’d like to start, talk to them about whether payment has changed and how you should proceed.
On the other hand, maybe the pandemic has inspired you to start (or re-start) therapy for the first time. One way to begin is by contacting your insurance company for a list of people who take your insurance. You can also check to see if your employer offers an employee assistance program that includes mental health counseling. Through them, you may be able to receive some sessions for free.
NPR also reports that Medicare coverage is now including telehealth visits, virtual check-ins, and e-visits. If you’re worried about cost or don’t have insurance, NPR suggests talking to a therapist about a sliding-scale rate, or checking out Open Path Collective, which offers therapy sessions for $30-60.
You can also access online therapy through different websites or apps that use texting and video chatting. Two of the most well-known sites are BetterHelp and Talkspace, and a few recommended platforms include Amwell, MDLIVE, and Doctor on Demand. Prices vary between sites: MDLive offers sessions for $99 out of pocket, while Talkspace charges on a monthly basis with plans that start at $65 per week. (Talkspace is also donating therapy to frontline medical responders.) Of course, you want to do your own research into individual sites before choosing one that’s best for you. The American Psychological Association suggests making sure the site you're using is secure, HIPAA-compliant, and that the therapist you’re talking to is licensed in your state.
What if I'm looking for something more immediate?
If you can’t talk on the phone or on video (or don’t want to) but find yourself needing support, consider Crisis Text Line. Through the free text line, people can contact crisis counselors that are available 24/7. Counselors are trained to help texters cope with any type of situation, including anxiety, isolation, or grief. While the line is not intended to replace long-term counseling, it is a way to access immediate support.
There are also a number of hotlines, should you need:
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233; you can also text LOVEIS to 22522
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
The CDC has suggestions for coping during the pandemic, and your state might provide specific resources. (New York’s Office of Mental Health has an emotional support line as well as tips for mental wellness.) You can also consider mental health apps including Headspace, which assists with meditation and mindfulness, and Breathe2Relax.
What about something more communal?
Maybe you want to dip your toes into the therapy waters before diving in head first. If that's the case, check out Real, a therapy startup that's focusing on redesigning the mental healthcare experience. Real was supposed to open its first studio for women in New York City in early April but has since pivoted to online counseling due to the pandemic. The company is now hosting a free one-month series of digital offerings, including salons and workshops on different coronavirus-related topics, as well as one-on-one mental health check-ins with therapists.
Talkspace is also hosting a free Facebook support group, Alcoholics Anonymous is hosting online meetings, and The National Alliance on Mental Illness has featured a number of other online peer support communities, including Therapy Tribe and 7 Cups.
Why should I consider therapy now?
It’s important to remember that when it comes to mental health, you don’t have to be in a crisis state to ask for assistance. "You can literally reach out for extra support to process how you're feeling, figure out what unique coping skills you can employ now, or have somebody to talk to during this time," says Dr. Amy Cirbus, the director of clinical content at Talkspace.
At a time when the news is especially daunting and horrific, it can be natural to minimize your own problems and assume you don't need, or deserve, support. But Nina Vasan, the chief medical officer at Real and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford, says people should know it's always OK to feel however they're feeling. “Maybe you didn't get to go to your friend's wedding or maybe it's that you were really looking forward to your birthday party, and you didn't have it. [There are] things like that that might sound trivial compared to someone who's lost their job. But this is something that, in your own world, was really important to you.”
Perhaps you're worried about financial loss or your family members who are in a vulnerable population. “Women are disproportionately looked upon to give a lot of themselves and give care, but are not then able to ask for help or receive help,” Vasan says. “I’m hearing a lot of women talk about the fear they have for their parents and their role in addressing that if something were to happen.” Any challenging time can also cause existing struggles to be amplified or even bring back issues that were dormant, like those surrounding food and eating.
“The first step in being able to really get better is addressing it, acknowledging it, and also recognizing that you're not alone,” she says. “Recognizing that other people are dealing with it. That completely normalizes anxiety. That alone is therapeutic.”
Madison Feller Madison is a staff writer at ELLE.com, covering news, politics, and culture.