COVID 19: Psychiatric patients may be among the hardest hit


Voice of Experience

Commenting on the article for Medscape Medical News, Lloyd I. Sederer, MD, distinguished advisor for the New York State Office of Mental Health and adjunct professor at the Columbia School of Public Health in New York City, commended Druss for highlighting the need for more mental health services during the pandemic.

However, although Druss “has made some very good general statements,” these don’t really apply “in the wake of a real catastrophic event, which is what we’re having here,” Sederer said.

Sederer led Project Liberty, a massive mental health disaster response effort established in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York. Druss seems to infer that the mental health workforce is capable of expanding, but “what we learned is that the mental health system in this country is vastly undersupplied,” said Sederer.

During a disaster, the system “actually contracts” because clinics close and workforces are reduced. In this environment, some patients with a serious mental illness let their treatment “erode,” Sederer said.

While Druss called for clinics to have protocols for identifying and referring patients at risk for COVID-19, Sederer pointed out that “all the clinics are closed.”

However, he did note that many mental health clinics and hospitals are continuing to reach out to their vulnerable patients during this crisis.

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Sederer and colleagues published an article in Psychiatric Services that highlighted the “lessons learned” from the Project Liberty experience. One of the biggest lessons was the need for crisis counseling, which is “a recognized, proven intervention,” said Sederer.

Such an initiative involves trained outreach workers, identifying the untreated seriously mentally ill in the community, and “literally shepherding them to services,” he added.

In this current pandemic, it would be up to the federal government to mobilize such a crisis counseling initiative, Sederer explained.

Sederer noted that rapid relief groups like the Federal Emergency Management Agency do not cover mental health services. In order to be effective, disaster-related mental health services need to include funding for treatment, including focused therapies and medication.

Druss and Sederer have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

This article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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