DBSA Advocates preventing social isolation during physical distancing precautions

DBSA chapter leaders and support group facilitators are our front line advocates. They fight stigma everyday, both external and internalized, by attending, hosting, and publicly promoting peer support group meetings. With the public health crisis the world is facing today, many of those advocates are transitioning to virtual meetings during this time of physical isolation.

One of the biggest barriers to accessing quality mental health care is internalized stigma. This issue has the potential to grow as people become more and more physically isolated. Peers may begin to exhibit symptoms of depression and isolation during this time of physical distancing precautions. DBSA has increased the number of weekly online support groups we offer from 6 to 11. However, DBSA chapter leaders and support group facilitators are rising to the challenge, quickly learning how to transition to virtual meetings in place of their in-person groups.

DBSA state organizations, chapters, and support groups are stepping up to fill the void by using video conferencing technology. This has involved training support group facilitators on how to set up and run meetings on these online platforms, including how to break a large video conference into smaller groups. Because lack of experience with these video conferencing platforms can be a barrier to participation, many chapters such as Boston and Greater Hartford are training support group participants on how to use the technology as well.

DBSA is driving systemic change around internalized stigma by letting the public know about these virtual meetings one chapter leader at a time, as in the following:

“The chapter leadership is updating the website and their Facebook account to ensure that the information is updated and correct, and we are exploring using video conferencing technology. Due to the current crisis, the chapter leadership is re-writing its guidelines, developing new confidentiality agreements and liability waivers.” -Michelle, Boston

Other challenges include not having access to a computer or internet at all. Many chapters have gotten creative with other alternative solutions to the problem of isolation. Some chapters, like Louisville, have created text message groups to check-in with each other. Other chapters, like San Diego, have implemented outdoor walking groups, where peers can maintain a safe distance of six feet while experiencing social contact and getting fresh air and exercise!

As advocates, sharing resources now is more important than ever, and the DBSA national organization stands ready to assist all of our affiliate state organizations, chapters, and support groups. We also encourage you to reach out to each other to share and receive ideas and resources to address this unique situation. That is already the case in many places like New Jersey and California. The Pasadena chapter has done this and also reached out to other mental health advocacy organizations and their local chapters. These are unprecedented circumstances, but DBSA leaders are up to task:

“This is a challenging time which will require chapters to more broadly serve participants.”  -Dave, Pasadena

To find a DBSA online support group, click here.

To connect with a local DBSA affiliate and their work to support peers at this time, access our support group finder here.

Please forward to colleagues, family, and friends to assist us in this grassroots effort to make our voice heard.

To continue to receive communications about issues that support access to quality mental health care,

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DBSA peers advocate for support during crisis

Advocacy takes many forms. For chapter leaders and facilitators, ensuring that peers in their community have access to a peer support group is one of the most important forms of advocacy. Not only does this advocacy support the reduction of internalized stigma, it increases positive conversations in the community about how to take care of one’s mental health. The DBSA national organization’s support of this work is now more important than ever as we assist the chapters in offering virtual meetings.

The DBSA national organization is also involved in more traditional advocacy to create systemic change in the way health care is delivered and making it more accessible. One way we do this is through our active participation with mental health coalitions. Member organizations develop policy letters to be sent to Congress and invite other members of the organization to sign the letter as well. This effective grassroots advocacy demonstrates the power of numbers while eliminating duplication of efforts.

In the past two weeks, DBSA has made its voice heard in Congress through this simple but effective strategy. Below is a sample of policies DBSA has supported that address immediate concerns:

  • SAMHSA should issue guidance to support remote recovery support groups.
  • HHS should issue guidance clarifying that mental health and substance use clinicians and professionals are included in priority testing for COVID-19 as well as targets of emergency medical supplies including masks, respirators, ventilators, and other needed resources for health care professionals during this crisis.
  • HHS should launch a special enrollment period for commercial health insurance in the healthcare.gov marketplace during this crisis and future public health crises.
  • Congress should ensure that all government health plans provide extended supplies and/or mail order refills of prescriptions.
  • Congress should allow for all current discretionary and block grant funds for mental health and substance use programs, including prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support, across all relevant agencies within the federal government that cannot be spent this fiscal year due to the pandemic to be automatically extended into Fiscal Year 2021.

Additional policies DBSA has supported that look towards future preparedness include that HHS should consider the mental health and substance use effects of future pandemics and national emergencies including:

  • Establishing an interagency taskforce or advisory committee on disaster mental health and substance use to ensure future responses take proper measures to coordinate care, allocate resources, and take appropriate measures to ensure recovery.
  • Convening a working group to review current research and funding on disaster mental health through NIH, AHRQ, CDC, SAMHSA, HRSA, FDA, and the Department of Justice, and other relevant agencies; and identify gaps in knowledge, areas of recent progress, and necessary priorities.
  • Increase use and reliance of telecommunications, especially in rural areas.

DBSA posts support letters on its website. To read these letters for yourself, follow this link.

Please forward to colleagues, family, and friends to assist us in this grassroots effort to make our voice heard.

To continue to receive communications about issues that support access to quality mental health care,

Join Our Movement