Online mental health treatment sees some positive results

One patient said virtual treatment is different, but it has made her more independent.
Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 7:47 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everything from work to school online, and one service that has seen the change is mental health treatment. The virtual setting is an adjustment, but patients and health specialists said they have seen some positive results.

Madison resident Nikyra McCann was no stranger to mental health treatment, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I remember times being in isolation for 18 hours, times being on so much medication that drool would just come down my mouth,” she described.

Twelve years ago, McCann received a diagnosis for a mental health disorder. Up until the pandemic, her treatment happened in-person.

“When you want to stay stable, you’re going to fight to stay stable,” she explained.

When things moved online, McCann said at first, she missed the face-to-face connection.

“It makes you feel empathy and it makes you feel like someone really cares,” she said.

However, she said the shift also made her stronger and more independent.

“I really had to step up and say this is my life, I have to take charge of my own mental health,” McCann remembered.

McCann has long been familiar with mental health treatment, but many people started seeking help during the pandemic.

Rogers Behavioral Health said its Madison clinic saw 39 percent more calls since the pandemic started.

“We’re actually seeing record volumes of patients right now, and a lot of them have reported that the pandemic has been a source of stress that has led to them coming into treatment,” said Nicole Wiswell, behavioral specialist at Rogers.

Wiswell said the online setting is an adjustment, but sometimes it can help.

“A lot of our patients feel more comfortable in their home setting versus here which can feel like a strange place at first,” Wiswell said.

She also said seeing patients in their home can help specialists address issues they normally would not be able to during in-person treatment.

“[With] OCD and anxiety, where we do exposure therapy, we’ve been able to continue doing that, and it’s been advantageous for our patients whose fears are related to things in their homes because they can do that during programming time,” Wiswell explained.

For McCann, she hopes her story gives people hope and encourages them to reach out if they are struggling.

“Reach out to those you love, your family members, let them know how you feel,” she said.

Wiswell and staff at Rogers said they have been able to serve more people virtually, including patients who do not live close to one of their locations or have transportation barriers. They are looking at ways to continue offering virtual treatment after the pandemic.

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