If the pandemic has got you down, you’re not alone. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that “symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April-June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.”

Making matters worse, COVID-19 has made it more difficult for many people to access mental health care.

Fortunately, Sheppard Pratt Health System’s new virtual walk-in crisis clinic is meeting the mental health needs of Marylanders “from the comfort of their own homes,” says Dr. Deepak Prabhakar, medical director of outpatient services for the Towson-based psychiatric hospital.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of disruption to day-to-day life, schedules and access to health care,” says Dr. Prabhakar. “Along the way, loss of employment also caused disruption to health care access since so many people in this country receive their health insurance through their jobs.”

These concerns were intensified by the feelings of isolation that so many people experienced due to the lockdowns in their communities, says Dr. Prabhakar.

Dr. Deepak Prabhakar
“We wanted to be a place where they could receive quality mental health care. We wanted to be part of the community response, to be a solution.” — Dr. Prabhakar, Sheppard Pratt

“We wanted to be a place where they could receive quality mental health care. We wanted to be part of the community response, to be a solution,” he says.

To address the increased need for mental health services during the pandemic, Sheppard Pratt created the virtual walk-in clinic in April. Designed to serve individuals with mental health symptoms who were unable to travel to the hospital’s in-person crisis clinic, the virtual clinic also helped to reduce emergency room visits to area hospitals struggling to keep up with the influx of COVID-19 patients.

The virtual clinic offers telehealth services including evaluation, psychotherapy, medication management and referrals to Sheppard Pratt’s other virtual and in-person care services for people throughout the state.

“It is really helpful that people can receive services without leaving their homes,” says Dr. Prabhakar, who notes that patients who require in-person services for one reason or another are still seen in the hospital’s pre-existing walk-in clinic.

Dr. Prabhakar says he is especially pleased that the virtual clinic makes it easier for underserved populations that traditionally have greater difficulty accessing health care to receive services.

“I think the clinic is unique in the country,” he says.

Since the clinic opened, Dr. Prabhakar says the hospital has seen better appointment and medication compliance. That’s due to the fact that it is much easier for patients to keep their appointments when they don’t have to worry about finding transportation or taking time off from their work days.

“We hope to keep going with this, but the health care system has a lot of rules,” says Dr. Prabhakar. “Many of these regulations [such as technology specifications and policies regarding where services can be delivered] have been relaxed due to the pandemic. If those regulations stay relaxed, we will continue.”

Dr. Prabhakar urges Marylanders experiencing symptoms of mental illness to seek help.

“That is the most important thing,” he says. “The pandemic causes anxiety, depression and disruption in our lives. At the end of the day, the community is responding and we do have resources.”

To schedule an appointment with Sheppard Pratt’s virtual crisis walk-in clinic, visit sheppardpratt.org/care-finder/virtual-crisis-walk-in-clinic/ or call 410-938-5302. Appointments are available Monday – Friday from 10 a.m.–9 p.m. and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. Telehealth care is provided through a secure, online platform and delivered by licensed therapists and clinicians in the Sheppard Pratt Health System.

Beyond the Sheppard Pratt Hospital System, individuals experiencing a mental health crisis can call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.