Navigating a New Normal: Focusing on Mental Health in the Time of Pandemic

by Kim Shepard

As the coronavirus pandemic continues on, the toll on Arizona’s and our nation’s mental health intensifies. Whether someone is learning to adjust to working at home, struggling with home-schooling, coping with a family member who is suffering with COVID-19 or dealing with a job loss, the difficulty and uncertainty of living through this time can cause tremendous anxiety, isolation, depression, substance use and other mental health concerns.

For Arizonans, the distress can be particularly acute. As of mid-July, Arizona was one of the states in our country with the worst outbreaks. Having to face contracting a potentially deadly illness is one stressor, while not knowing when the pandemic will end — or what state our world will be in after it does — is another.

At Cigna, we have long recognized that the body and mind are inextricably linked and that’s why it is important to take care of both emotional health and physical health to avoid more complex issues in the future. With all the events and frequent changes happening around us, it is important to pause and look at the impact of stress on ourselves, our families and our communities.

As more workplaces reopen, maintaining a safe workplace is vital to helping employees have peace of mind. Employees must feel comfortable knowing their employer is taking the proper precautions. State, CDC and OSHA guidelines for workplace activity, gathering sizes and physical distancing can be used to establish worksite plans and policies. The CDC also has a useful tool designed to help employers make decisions about re-opening, and the Arizona Department of Health Services provides useful resources and guidelines. [See Resources List]

When it comes to returning to work, Cigna is taking steps to support employers as they help their employees through the COVID-19 crisis. We use advanced analytics, research and a partnership approach to develop customized worksite solutions that help employers help their employees cope with frustration and fear.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to trigger ongoing medical and mental health needs. A few of the ways we are supporting employers and employees in light of the evolving nature of the crisis include the following. [Also see Resources List at the end of this article.]

A comprehensive online resource: Cigna’s website includes a comprehensive Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center dedicated to offering resources and guidelines for individuals, families, employers, seniors and healthcare providers. 

Wellness, mental health and behavioral resources: Cigna has curated a wide range of resources from Cigna experts, community partners and other trusted experts. For example, one of the webcasts available, “Managing the Return to Work,” helps employees put the impending return-to-work reality into perspective and provides tips to cope with the change.

Emphasizing telehealth: Difficulty in accessing mental health services has long been an issue of concern in this country. The pandemic has exacerbated that problem, as in-person doctor visits have been limited. Cigna expanded its virtual mental health provider network so patients can get the care they need when they need it via an on-demand telehealth appointment. In fact, telehealth appointments now constitute about 85 percent of Cigna Medical Group visits. Arizona is one of the states where Cigna provides a 12-week app-based support program through Meru Health to help customers deal with anxiety and depression.

As humans, we like predictability — it grounds us and helps us feel secure. Now, our lives are anything but routine. Dealing with working from home and the prospect of returning to the workplace can be overwhelming and disorienting. Workers are looking for answers, and employers play an essential role in easing the path toward a new normal. Improving the health and well-being of our customers doesn’t stop at the individual level. When we support communities in addition to the individual people who live in them, we can make the biggest difference.

Kim Shepard
Market President for Arizona

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