Virtual services help address mental health issues

Updated 4/2/2020 2:24 PM

While stress and anxiety levels may be at an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing makes it difficult to access mental health assistance, such as seeing a therapist or attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Shifting to online services is crucial work for mental health providers and social services.


"Some agencies are closing their face-to-face doors but remain open online," said Janet Mason, human services instructor at CLC. "People are being directed to use telehealth to access mental health services remotely."

In response to COVID-19, many insurance companies expanded emergency coverage so people who need to speak with a counselor can still see someone virtually. Telehealth has been on the rise in recent years, but this event has forced it into further existence.

"People who think they can't go see their group, counselor or therapist should realize they can do it virtually," said Mason. "People who need residential substance treatment or mental health programs are switching to remote or telehealth for outpatient services."

Mason highly recommends United Way of Lake County's new 211 resource. This is a free, confidential, 24-hour information and referral helpline.

United Way added additional people to handle the volume of calls since COVID-19 created extra stress for food securities, employment, housing and safety, as well as crisis counseling and health care.

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"People are under really high stress situations, and while they may not need a mental health professional for stress relief, they may need someone to help with child care, housing issues or accessing food," said Mason. "The 211 number helps reduce that anxiety."

The demand for social work is also on the rise during the pandemic, because domestic violence and child abuse continues to happen at home. Social workers are essential.

CLC human services and social work instructor Mick Cullen describes how going out to work and school may have been an outlet that was removed when people are forced to stay at home.

"There's a concern for the community because there may be people in more vulnerable positions than they were before," he said.

Volunteers, like Cullen, who help at organizations such as the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center, continue to provide services on the phone instead of in-person. The Z-Center's 24-hour support line was available before COVID-19 and it continues to help the community.


Coincidentally, the college is in the process of developing online counselor training programs. Both instructors agree, the current learning environment with virtual experiences and alternative learning models teach their students how to make telehealth work.

CLC graduates will feel more comfortable with this trend when they enter the workforce.

"It's important this access is out there because there's plenty of places, even in Illinois, where people can't meet in person," Mason said.

"This could be the new norm if insurance will pay for it the way many companies are now doing during this crisis."

For information about the College of Lake County, visit or call (847) 543-2000.

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