How to Make the Most of Virtual Mental Health Care

These are strange times we are living in.

Health and social care services all across the country (and the world) are having to adapt to keep themselves and their patients safe, whilst still trying to meet the needs of us who are under their service. Staff are being redeployed left right and centre, services are closing, appointments are being moved to telephone and video. If, like me, you have seen your mental health care change drastically over the last few weeks, I thought I would share some of my tips about how to manage this.

Designate a room.
Therapy can unearth a lot of feelings that can feel traumatic and unsafe, and for many of us our homes are our safe space. It can feel very uncomfortable sharing your deepest darkest secrets somewhere that isn’t a neutral space, but these times mean we sometimes just have to make the best of a bad situation. Try and create a space (a room if you can) in which therapy/appointments take place, that way it isn’t taking over your entire home.

Use headphones.
This won’t work for everybody and actually I am currently not using them when having therapy, but a lot of the clinicians do and I have heard from other people who find it really helpful. Not only can it make the sound clearer, it makes it so that you are the only one that can hear it, which is especially useful if there will be other people at home that you don’t want to hear your private conversations.

Bring a pen and paper.
I don’t know why but for some reason I find it easier to retain information if I am in a face to face appointment rather than via video link or the phone. Some types of therapy can also come with handouts and things like that which are obviously hard to access when you’re not in the same room (my eating disorder team send mine via email). As I go along I record point that I think are important, then transfer them into my bullet journal later on.

Ask questions.
It’s okay to be unsure in these weird times, and your mental health professional is probably equally unsure in a lot of way – this is uncharted territory for all of us and we are muddling our way through as best we can. If you do think of any questions, maybe write them down beforehand so you don’t forget them when the time comes for your appointment.

Be patient.
Following on from the above point – please try and be patient with your therapist/psychiatrist/care co-ordinator. I am due to return to work soon and have seen all the conversations that are going on in the background about how to meet the needs of patients while remaining safe and protecting everyone, and let me tell you it is far more complicated than it may seem even just getting access to the software that allows for visual communication, let alone setting it up and learning how to use it. There are likely to be teething problems whichever service you are under, so although very frustrating (I am, as a patient, also very frustrated with the situation), please know that the professionals on the other end are probably tearing their hair out too trying to understand this new way of working and being unable to offer the quality of care that they would like to.

Give it a chance.
It’s really easy to write these things off before we’ve tried them – I know that I pretty much had. However, you might find that it works for you better than you anticipated. I’ve had two telephone therapy sessions and two video therapy sessions now and although it has its downfalls, it’s actually not been anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. If you’re offered something like this, give it a go. You might surprise yourself.

Be honest.
If this way of working isn’t helpful to you, it’s okay to say so. I am trying video therapy and it’s going okay but I do still have it in the back of my mind that I would much prefer face to face treatment and may still request to put my therapy on hold until the service reopens properly. Remote care is not like for like to care in person, and for some of us it just isn’t going to work. That is absolutely okay and you have every right to say so. Equally, there will be some of you who prefer phone to video and vice versa, and it’s important to highlight these things so that the service can try to adapt to your needs, ensuring you can get the most out of your treatment.

I hope some of these tips might be helpful and I would love to hear if you have any more that you’ve learnt over the last few weeks. We are having to adapt in completely unprecedented times and there are bound to be hiccups along the way, but all we can do is try and make the most of what we have access to.

Hopefully this list may help you to do that.


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