Mental health checkups ‘more important than ever,’ director says, as agency encourages clients to try remote therapy services 

CLINTON TONWSHIP — Being caught up in a global pandemic can be mentally straining for just about anybody.

As reports of COVID-19 continue to dominate the news, families everywhere are dealing with increased levels of stress — a situation exacerbated for those with underlying mental health issues.

As society adapts to its new normal, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan is working to ensure those who need it continue to have access to mental and behavioral health counseling. 

The social service nonprofit, which already offered face-to-face counseling services before the crisis began, has shifted many of its counseling resources online and is continuing to take on new clients, said Andrea Foley, Catholic Charities’ chief program officer. 

Foley said therapists and mental health caregivers are classified by the state as “essential workers,” but out of caution for the safety and wellbeing of patients and clinicians, Catholic Charities has sped up its rollout of telehealth services, which it had planned to offer even before the crisis.

“We want to keep our employees safe, but at the same time, we know exactly how badly behavioral health services are needed,” Foley told Detroit Catholic. “We decided we would quickly establish our telehealth services and give all our therapists and clinicians the opportunity to continue to do important work with their current clients, as well as see new clients who want to start counseling for whatever reason.”

Foley said Catholic Charities was already developing telehealth options for those who live in remote areas of the archdiocese or who have difficulties finding transportation. 

“This pandemic really sped up the process for us,” Foley said. “We have contracted with Doxy.me, an internet provider that sets up telehealth for physical and behavioral health providers. We know the software is all HIPAA compliant and adheres to all the privacy laws.”

The system guarantees the privacy of clients and is compliant with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s requirements, Foley added.

Clients can use the service on their computer, tablet or smartphone to have a live video conversation with their therapist or clinician, or simply talk via phone.

Foley said clients and clinicians have learned to adjust to bumps in the road, such as connection lapses that come with technology, but overall, the process has been smooth. 

“Some of our clients at first felt a little strange about it, but once they began talking to their therapist, they forget they are not in the room with them,” Foley said.

Foley said clinicians and therapists have been advised to follow guidelines such as wearing muted colors and having a muted background on screen, making sure cellphones and other distractions are put away, and talking from a private location in their homes.

Foley said the quarantine has been tough on everyone, but for those who already suffer from mental health challenges, it can be especially difficult.

“For someone with mental health issues, isolating is usually the last thing they need,” Foley said. “But with social distancing, that’s what we are being called to do.”

Foley encourages those feeling extra stress to consider counseling, even if it’s only one or two sessions.

“Whether you realize it or not, this is a stressful situation to be,” Foley said. “It’s natural for people to feel greater stress and anxiety, and it’s OK to reach out for counseling.”

Foley also advises anyone spending time in isolation to keep a set schedule for work, eating, sleeping and exercise. 

“When you sit there alone with your thoughts, you can start to really catastrophize and worsen the situation when you have nobody to talk to,” Foley said. “So make sure you are keeping social connections, even if they are virtual.”

“There really is no issue that is too small and doesn’t warrant someone to talk to, to help them through it,” Foley added. “People tend to ignore those things, and it can fester and become bigger problems. So we encourage anyone to engage with us, talk to a clinician, talk to somebody, even if you feel you only need one or two sessions. That’s why we’re here.”

Schedule a counseling appointment

Catholic Charities staff is equipped to answer phone calls during the crisis. To schedule a virtual counseling appointment or to learn more, call (855) 882-2736 or visit https://ccsem.org/behavioral-health-counseling/

Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan relies on donors’ support to provide ministries during the COVID-19 crisis. To make a gift, visit https://donate.ccsem.org/donate/main