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Addressing COVID-19's Impact on SUD and Suicidality

Published on:
September 23, 2021

COVID-19 is driving more individuals to move from experiencing just mild to moderate anxiety to more severe mental health issues such as starting or increasing the use of substances and suicidal thoughts. The Kaiser Family Foundation outlined the impact of COVID on substance use and suicide increases in certain communities, including the fact that essential workers face greater increases of SUD than others, 42% over 30% for mental health issues and 25% over 11% for SUD. I sat down with Dr. Smita Das, MD, PhD, MPH, Psychiatry Medical Director at Lyra Health, to learn about their exciting new expansions to address these growing needs: 

Lyra Health has just announced new services to address alcohol use disorder (AUD) and suicidality, tell us more about what prompted the expansion?

As a physician treating patients, I see firsthand the gaps in the current traditional health care system. People who are struggling with unhealthy alcohol use or strong suicidal thoughts—which number in the millions—often are considered too “complex” for traditional outpatient models. With the system not set up to support individuals with complex diagnoses, people unfortunately only get care when their symptoms progress to be more severe.

Even then, gaining access to relevant treatment through EAPs and health plans can be challenging, as existing care options don’t always address comorbidities that often present alongside alcohol use disorder, such as anxiety and depression. Stigma is also a factor when it comes to these areas, making it even harder for people to get the critical care they need. 

With approximately 30% of Lyra’s members currently struggling with problematic drinking, and 16% having suicidal thoughts and behaviors, Lyra recognizes the critical need to address complex mental health issues, and is proud to offer outpatient care options that help employees and their families wherever they are on the mental health spectrum.

What exactly can employers expect in the new offerings?

Lyra Health’s newest offerings address problematic alcohol use, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and personalized support for children, adolescents, and adults who need help accessing specialized mental health support. Its new comprehensive alcohol program helps people reduce drinking or attain sobriety by combining virtual therapy, group sessions, ongoing symptom assessments, peer recovery support specialists to help members stay on track, digital lessons that teach coping skills, and medication to fight cravings. Because it is delivered through Lyra’s comprehensive Blended Care virtual platform, support can be accessed from the privacy of members’ homes, helping reduce the impact of stigma and help them develop coping skills relevant to their usual home/work environments.

Lyra’s Blended Care Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Suicidality helps members decrease suicidal thoughts and behaviors. DBT is considered the gold standard for treatment for individuals with moderate to high suicidality. Lyra DBT combines one-on-one virtual therapy sessions with therapist-prescribed skill-building lessons through Lyra’s Blended Care platform to help individuals recover quickly and effectively. Members receive flexible, ongoing support through weekly group skills training and access to 24/7 crisis support from a DBT-trained support team.

Finding care for complex mental health needs can be among the most difficult experiences for people and families due to the exhaustive process to evaluate and manage higher levels of care. Lyra Concierge: Advanced Care Coordination provides personalized support for people who need care through intensive outpatient and rehabilitation facilities. Lyra additionally provides clinical leave evaluations should short-term leave for mental health be required.

Stigma is still such a huge issue when it comes to mental health, substance use issues, and more. Even though employers have solutions for employees, sometimes they go unused only because of the stigma employees might feel to seek them out. How is Lyra supporting employees to raise their hand and actually seek out these services?

Stigma is a very important topic and one that Lyra approaches thoughtfully when developing all of its comprehensive mental health offerings. For our 2.5 million members around the globe, Lyra is a trusted mental health partner. Our newest services will be as easy to access and flexible as our other offerings. These new care options are also offered virtually. The combination of trust, ease of access, and ability to get high quality care from the privacy of home all can help overcome stigma.

As a result, employees facing more challenging and complex issues will benefit earlier in the progression of their symptoms and more durably. The support they will get for themselves and their families will give them the opportunity to more meaningfully engage in life and work once they recover.

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