Mental Health in the Time of Crisis – Advice from a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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Mental Health in the Time of Crisis – Advice from a Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Consuming the news is necessary right now to stay informed about COVID-19. But for many, the overconsumption of media can also be a source of stress and anxiety. In times of uncertainty, feelings of anxiety and unease are a normal response. It’s important to set aside some time to focus on your mental well-being. 

Methods to Help Ease Your Mind & Reduce Your Anxiety 

“If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed lately, trust me, you’re not alone,” said Sandra Taveras, LCSW.  “I recommend my patients try one of the following tips to help cope with anxiety and stress.”

1. Schedule some media-free time. Whether you watch the news, scroll through Instagram, or listen to the radio, it’s all COVID-19 all the time and for many people, this can be quite overwhelming. While it’s important to stay informed on the latest public health directives and updates – for example, masks are now required when you leave the house –  being constantly bombarded by negative messages can take a toll on your disposition. Set aside some time where you turn off your cell phone, step away from the news, and do something that relaxes you.  

2. Use grounding tools. Grounding yourself can help you stay in the moment when you’re having difficulty with racing thoughts and worries. First, start by calming your breathing, then once you find your breath, follow these steps: 

a. Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you.
b. Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you.
c. Acknowledge THREE things you hear.
d. Acknowledge TWO things you can smell.
e. Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. 

3. Get enough sleep and try to eat healthily. We know for some it’s difficult right now to sleep, but getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night can decrease anxiety because when your body is stressed, it needs additional rest. It’s also important to eat a well-balanced diet to help boost your immune system and fuel your brain- and don’t forget to take your vitamins! 

4. Try and think Positive. At times it may seem impossible but try to focus on the positive things around you. Practice positive affirmations, positive self- talk and gratitude. Keep focusing on what is important to you. 

Remember, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious and worried during times like these. Don’t be too hard on yourself. 

Talk to a Professional if You Need To

If you’re having a difficult time dealing with the distress of COVID-19, there are professional resources available. It’s okay to reach out for help when you need it, like the New York State Office of Mental Health Emotional Support Line: 1-844-863-9314. 

Crystal Run Healthcare, Supporting Your Mental and Physical Health 

Crystal Run Healthcare is focused on both your physical and mental health during this time. We have psychiatrists and psychologists on staff to address all of your mental health needs. Now you can schedule an appointment with a mental health professional right from the comfort of your own home Visit our website to learn more about Telehealth Virtual Video Visits.

At Crystal Run Healthcare, we’re committed to our patients during this trying time. Whether you’re experiencing coronavirus symptoms and need to call our CORONAVIRUS HOTLINE (845-643-3909) or you need an appointment with one of your physicians, we’re here for you now and in the future. 

Applying risk management strategies to new work options

As companies seek solutions to reduce expenses or allow remote work, they must ensure these choices will not result in more insurance claims.

As organizations bend to economic headwinds caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, prevention and early detection of potential claims will also be critically important to contain and mitigate balance sheet exposures. First-responders, healthcare workers and “essential” personnel will all be affected by COVID-19, necessarily resulting in significantly greater numbers of workers’ compensation claims.

Shelter-in-place requirements have forced organizations to abandon their traditional offices in favor of ‘home offices.’ Such arrangements may lack appropriate equipment and may cause ergonomic injuries, leading to greater workers’ compensation claims. And as economic pressure forces some organizations to consider furloughs or reduction-in-force (RIF) actions to stay afloat through these troubling times, experience suggests that if handled improperly, such actions will result in further workers’ compensation claims.

Reduction in force

We have experienced these “reduction-in-force” phenomena before and have reason to believe these may manifest again in the days ahead. In previous recessionary periods that forced organizations to shutter facilities, we saw as much as 50% increases in the number of “post-termination” claims when the reduction in force was not handled proactively. As organizations contemplate difficult choices affecting headcount, caution should be undertaken to prevent unnecessary claims.

Aon recently completed a survey of over 1,400 clients globally and the results of the survey (completed between April 7-10, 2020) are staggering. Of the 1,466 organizations that responded to the question regarding layoffs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, 8% responded that they had already undertaken such action, and 74% were “actively considering this action.”

When a future reduction-in-force is necessary (or may have already occurred), following best practices can help reduce the likelihood of post-termination claims arising and helps pave the road to recovery when operations can begin resuming as the economy improves.

Considerations for a reduction in workforce include:

Assembling a multi-disciplined team to develop and execute your workforce reduction strategy.

  • Risk management, legal, human resources, finance, operations, public relations, external partners (such as insurance brokers & consultants) will play an integral role to help ensure your plan conforms to state and federal regulations and meets overall objectives.
  • COVID-19 is an evolving risk and legislation intended to mitigate its effects is very fluid, so ensure your team is fully informed on current and anticipated changes in local and federal requirements/laws.
  • Planning for ramp-up is an equally important element as economic pressures abate.

Assess potential workforce reduction options and anticipated/unanticipated impacts.

  • Consider impacts on workers’ compensation and other benefit programs.
  • Consider unintended outcomes such as loss of key personnel in unaffected divisions or business units.

Utilize metrics to determine if your workforce reduction strategy is meeting objectives.

  • Establish regular measurements over time and connected to key elements of your strategy.
  • Be prepared to adapt or modify your workforce reduction strategy if objectives are not met.

Work-from-home creates new ergonomic exposures

Social-distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions have forced many organizations to send their workforce to “home offices.” This creates a whole new set of ergonomic exposures that will also impact the frequency of workers’ compensation claims. Working from home with improvised office furniture leads to increased risk for awkward postures that may accelerate ergonomic injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, low back and neck strains. Such ailments can quickly become workers’ compensation claims.

Considerations for working safely from home include several factors:

Work-from-home ergonomics program.

  • Work with your health and safety leaders to develop a “work-from-home” ergonomics program that addresses equipment use and set up.

Manage work-from-home ergonomic risks.

  • Consider engaging a professional, web-based enterprise ergonomics partner to assist your home-based workers with comfort issues. Internal ergonomic resources may not be scalable to the extent necessary.

Work-life balance.

  • Many workers’ may be working in an unsupervised work environment; establishing a balance between work and home early on ensures productivity in the future.
  • Stay in frequent contact with your home-based workforce.

Employers deploying ergonomic strategies for their virtual workforce will fare better than those less forward-thinking.

Dealing with disruption

There is unanimous consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented disruptor for all organizations, including those specifically servicing the workers’ compensation industry (including insurance carriers, third-party administrators and a host of ancillary service providers like attorneys, physicians, physical therapists, etc.). As previous workflows diminish due to the massive transition to home or virtual workspaces, employers must adapt to the new normal.

Another anticipated result of the increased workers’ compensation claim volume is litigation. This will be further exacerbated by the uncertain nature of the COVID-19 causal nexus to the workplace for all but first-responders and frontline healthcare workers.

Litigation adds significantly greater levels of complexity and cost to a claim, protracts resolution and necessitates significantly greater resources to manage. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) applications are helping the claims industry make sense of the big data we’ve heard so much about. These new technologies can instantaneously identify relationships in data characteristics often too subtle for the human mind to sort out.

Identifying relationships in claim characteristics that lead to litigation positions claim administrators to help detect potential complexity early. Such detection provides an opportunity for different solutions and strategies to be deployed to fend off the potential for litigation. Leveraging these new technology platforms to identify potential complexity or litigation indicators, however, is only half the battle.

Recognizing litigation indicators early can be used to trigger diversion strategies to mitigate the likelihood of litigation. As litigation indicators arise, applying specific strategies to counter the typical causes of litigation can be impactful. An example of this includes establishing significantly more frequent interactions with injured employees to create a better rapport and establish more reliable communication between employer, claim administrator and injured employees.

Simple strategies are often the most effective. The biggest shift, however, requires the adoption of an advocacy-based model to help mitigate the “friction” that creates fear. This, in turn, can lead to litigation. Here is a sample framework of an advocacy-based model.

Lead with empathy and advocacy

  • Demonstrating concern for an injured employee’s wellbeing in the wake of an accident can significantly mitigate the fear of reprisal without compromising any potential defenses that might apply.
  • Eliminate hazardous assumptions, which are predilections to suspicion. For example:
    • The injury is fraudulent or purposefully staged.
    • The employee is malingering or protracting their disability.
    • The employee is “gaming the system” or is skilled at navigating the complexities of the “system.”

Build rapport

  • Honest and frequent communication with the injured employee keeps expectations in check.
  • Language barrier considerations: Language barriers often create communication issues, which can lead to litigation, so ensuring claim management staff are either bilingual to meet the needs of your employee base or have easy access to interpreting services is essential.

Think creatively

  • Successful litigation avoidance strategies consist of out-of-the-box solutions aimed at solidifying rapport and building trust.
  • Consider gestures of kindness such as flowers, post-cards, frequent phone calls from supervisors, etc.
  • Serious injuries that pre-empt household duties such as cleaning or cooking cause stress, so offering occasional house cleaning services of meal delivery in certain circumstances can reduce that stress and further build rapport and trust.

Well-prepared organizations are deploying myriad solutions in efforts to mitigate the impact of these uncertain times to help protect their balance sheet from costly and unnecessary claims.

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