Coping with COVID’s Mental Health Effects
In May, the World Health Organization warned of a “massive increase in mental health conditions in the coming months,” due to the anxiety and isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shamit Chaki can attest to the truth of that.
There has been a surge of patients at the Crisis Response Center at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia with symptoms that are more acute than usual. “We believe that some part of it is due to the pandemic,” says Chaki, who is program director of the CRC.
The CRC is one of four adult psychiatric emergency rooms contracted by the City of Philadelphia to treat patients in psychiatric crisis or the grip of addiction.
Chaki speculates that the day programs, support groups and other resources that help patients remain stable have been shuttered during the pandemic. The programs may have switched to telehealth or Zoom, he says, but “so many of our patients may not have the means to attend the virtual sessions.” Not to mention that the health system is “hard to navigate for everyone,” more so for patients who are psychiatrically compromised and socially disadvantaged.
CRC patients can be psychotic; severely depressed by devastating loss; ravaged by the effects of trauma; paranoid, agitated, suicidal. Some have overdosed or are dangerously intoxicated
Some patients are quickly referred to other resources – detox or rehab or in-patient psychiatric treatment – though the wait for available beds can be frustrating and prolonged. Some patients return again and again, to be stabilized during a crisis. Some of them have no family, no place to call home, nowhere else to seek refuge.
“We care for these patients unconditionally and we’ll always be here for them,” Chaki says. “They get to know us and we build relationships with them.”
“I think the CRC is a special program,” Chaki says. “The fact that anyone who asks for our service can come in is meaningful to me. We’ve seen patients that recently emigrated to the U.S. with refugee status and have only been treated in refugee camps, so they had no identification cards, no Social Security number – and Einstein took care of them.”
Chaki says Einstein’s effectiveness is well known in the city’s mental health community. “One of the nicest things I’ve heard is when a city physician said, ‘We all know that Einstein is the place to go to get treatment,’” he says. “It’s gratifying that we’re known for going above and beyond for our patients.”
That may be in part because of Chaki himself.
He acknowledges, without specifying the details, there was a troubled time in his life when he, too, was among the emotionally wounded. And he knows what it means to be the recipient of an act of kindness.
He wishes everyone would know what he knows: “When you sit down and hear peoples’ stories, they’re about profound trauma but also profound resilience as well,” he says. “Some of the people who come to us – if they didn’t have profound resilience, they wouldn’t be alive today, but for that strength.”
Chaki is proud the Einstein CRC is a safe harbor for people who sometimes have no other. “The commitment and perseverance of the CRC team is Einstein’s mission and vision put into motion every day – with humanity, humility, and honor providing excellent patient to as many as we can reach.”
In the wake of the COVID crisis, as the World Health Organization predicted, more and more of them are coming to the CRC every day.