By Lillian A. ChafeeThe Ebola crisis in the U.S. could become worse before it gets better.
The nation’s top health experts are calling on all mental health providers and clinicians to join the fight against the virus.
The American Psychiatric Association and American Academy of Family Physicians have issued a joint statement that calls on the public and policymakers to get prepared for the possible spread of the disease and to embrace a “holistic approach” to treating patients.
They also urge clinicians to consider “the social and cultural context of the patient.”
The public and public health communities have a responsibility to take this crisis seriously and help protect the health of our country.
We must not be distracted by the false perception that this is a disease that only affects white people.
The statement also includes recommendations on how mental health care professionals can make mental health decisions in an Ebola-affected community.
While this may sound like a common-sense idea, mental health specialists say it’s not so.
While they are not required to be on the frontlines of the fight, they are part of the public health team.
That means that they can speak with families, get mental health assessments, and help patients manage their symptoms.
While the CDC has a national task force to combat the spread of Ebola, its work is often focused on treating the virus, rather than fighting it.
The group, known as the National Response Coordination Center, focuses on the most vulnerable groups, including those who have recently traveled to an affected country and have recently developed symptoms.
The task force also is tasked with helping communities respond to the virus by setting up clinics and health care workers to care for those patients who have recovered from the virus or are still receiving care.
But even the task force can’t provide the best care for everyone.
It’s not uncommon for mental health practitioners to not get the best training for their work.
Mental health professionals need to be better equipped with the tools they need to fight the disease.
So while mental health experts can speak to families and help individuals deal with their symptoms, they need the help of others, too.
We are asking you to step up and step up as you care for others and make sure you are prepared for this very real threat, said Dr. William Schaffner, a mental health doctor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a member of the APA task force.
We have to be ready for the worst.
Schaffner is a member the APAC’s Emergency Mental Health Task Force, which also includes the National Institute of Mental Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He has advised the task group on how to train and support mental health workers.
He says he has been overwhelmed by the response to the epidemic.
“I have a team of 100 people who are responding to an unprecedented wave of crisis, and yet the mental health team is not getting the resources they need,” Schaffer said.
“So we’re talking about a really significant investment in resources that are not necessarily well distributed.”
He said he believes mental health needs will improve as the epidemic progresses, but he still feels like a national mental health emergency is coming.
“We are going to be doing this work in a national emergency,” he said.
Schiffer also said mental health has a long history of being a public health concern.
In the 1960s and 1970s, mental illness was often treated as a disease of poverty and oppression.
In 2008, President Obama said that mental illness is “a social problem, not a medical one.”
Schaffer noted that mental health is also a social issue because people are reluctant to seek help from the government.
“The idea that you’re going to go out and say, ‘Well, I’m sick of my neighbors, my neighbors have the flu, so I’m going to find someplace to go and stay and do something,’ that is not going to happen,” he explained.
“That is not the way we should treat mental health.”
Schiffers focus on mental health first responders, such as police officers and firefighters, who can treat patients and manage the spread.
Schafers also stresses that mental illnesses have become part of our everyday lives.
“People get their diagnoses and get their treatment and have the opportunity to be healthy and live a normal life,” he told ABC News.
“But I do think we have to recognize that we are all human, and we are part and parcel of our communities and our country.”