BR physician says continued uptick in mental health visits is due to COVID-19
BATON ROUGE – One hospital system in Baton Rouge says that it is continuing to see an uptick in mental health visits related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One primary care physician at BRG says that a majority of patients coming in have brought up concerns about depression or anxiety. It comes as Louisiana is seeing another rise in coronavirus cases with residents being told that Phase Two of reopening will last at least another 20 plus days.
“Mental health is extremely important right now with the pandemic. That’s just as important as respiratory health,” Doctor Rachel Kermis said.
Kermis works as a family primary care physician at BRG. She says the number of patients coming in with mental health concerns has/have more than doubled since the pandemic began, and that increase has not let up.
“I think normally I was seeing about 20 percent maybe that were coming in for mental health issues. But kind of as things have progressed I've realized that probably three-quarters of my patients are coming in with some sort of anxiety, depression, panic attacks,” Kermis said.
All of her patients are now being initially screened for signs of behavioral changes due to the increase in mental health visits, according to Kermis. That means patients that coming in for a broken ankle, high blood pressure or anything else will also be asked those questions, as Kermis explains.
“In my physical exams, we have something called review of systems. We kind of go through the different body parts. But I've added in a psych question with it, just to sort of touch base to see how people are doing with their mood, make sure they’re sleeping okay. And from that I've found that a lot of people do have stuff going on,” Kermis said.
Financial stress, family and relationship troubles, and other burdens linked to the virus are among the most common problems that patients are bringing up. Kermis says some are forthcoming and open about those issues, but other people still find it difficult to bring up.
“They either think their problems aren’t as bad as some others or I can just manage this and get through this. But then when I actually start talking to them a lot more you can see how much it’s affecting their life,” Kermis said.
This trend that Kermis has seen over the past few months and her personal experience with patients is why she is now addressing mental health with everyone she sees in her office. And Kermis believes starting that conversation with your primary care doctor is a good first option.
“That’s something that’s kind of unique to us is that we can manage so much stuff. And for non-complicated depression and anxiety that’s something we’re definitely capable of managing. It doesn’t necessarily mean medication, but it’s something we want on our radar screens to make sure it’s not getting worse, kind of talk about counseling,” Kermis said.
The Louisiana Department of Health has also launched a Behavioral Health Recovery Outreach Line where individuals can find real-time support to avoid, prevent or intercept a crisis from occurring. That number is 1-833-333-1132.