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Mental Health for the ‘New Normal’: Innovation and Technology in the Time of COVID-19

Over the past two months, COVID-19 has changed the world in ways that we could never have imagined. Here in Washington, D.C., the number of cases continues to grow, hitting the African American community the hardest and particularly those residents in the poorest areas of the city. As the death toll increases, so too does the toll on mental health: one could argue that grief, fear, and depression present risk that is just as dangerous as the disease itself.

Though social distancing is imperative to saving lives, it also presents an obstacle to getting the help that people so desperately need. So it is incumbent upon the mental health community to innovate new ways of delivering services for those who need it the most.

At Life Stride, we provide mental health services to D.C. residents at particular risk, with most age 50 and above residing in Wards 5, 7 and 8, where most cases of COVID have occurred. Fear of getting sick, coupled with isolation and the loss of loved ones, can exacerbate preexisting mental health conditions, so we knew that we had to find a way to continue meeting client needs. In response, Life Stride harnessed new technology and tools to ensure the safety of our community.

Using HIPAA-compliant virtual platforms, we have been able to provide case management, therapy and medication management without a gap in services. Despite an initial learning curve for both staff and some clients, it was quickly embraced as the next best thing to seeing each other in person.

In addition, Life Stride developed a virtual day program for our clients with more severe mental health challenges. Life Stride’s day program helps these clients learn essential skills and coping mechanisms to help them live an independent life. For many who attend, this is also the only the opportunity for socialization that they have. Realizing the importance of continuing services we took the day program online, designing a new mode of implementation. Using Zoom, instructors now conduct classes virtually with an adapted curriculum suited to the platform. On the other end, clients in our group homes participate in discussion and activities with the help of residential staff, keeping them engaged and stimulated and interacting with others.

Realizing the importance of reaching the wider community of DC and beyond, we also began holding free Zoom mental health groups and classes. Open to the public, these groups cover various topics including depression, anxiety, crisis management, and mindfulness.

As we continue to navigate this changing world, the mental health community will need to continue to adapt, adopting new technologies and approaches for the “new normal.” But we are confident that we, along with our fellow agencies and clinicians, will be able to rise to the challenge.

About Life Stride

Life Stride, Inc. has served the mental health needs of the D.C. community for over 25 years. Life Stride is a D.C. Department of Behavioral Health-certified Community Service Provider committed to individual empowerment and recovery. We believe in the strength of our consumers to achieve their goals by making the decisions that are right for them, that all people — of every race, culture, religion and gender — have the right to dignity and respect, and that they deserve the highest-quality mental health services we can provide.

For more information, go to www.life-stride.com or call 202-635-2320.

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