Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing our industry and the health care system are critical to addressing some of today’s challenges and opportunities. The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors, including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others, to share their perspectives and point of view.
Today, we are pleased to welcome a guest post from Dr. Doug Williamson, psychiatrist and chief medical officer/SVP of Lundbeck US, on meeting the heightened needs of people living with brain diseases during the coronavirus pandemic.
The global COVID-19 outbreak has upended our regular routines, shut down our schools and workplaces, and made terms like “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” part of our everyday conversations. We know that seniors and people with underlying health conditions are more likely to experience serious complications if they contract the virus. But there is another community that also is at risk and needs our attention: People living with brain diseases are especially vulnerable to the effects of stress, and stress levels are now dramatically on the rise. For people who live with existing mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or neurological conditions such as migraine, increased stress could lead to a relapse or serious worsening of symptoms.
Brain diseases like depression and migraine are sometimes considered invisible diseases because the symptoms are not always outwardly obvious. At Lundbeck, we are almost 6,000 people across the globe dedicated to improving the lives of those impacted by brain diseases. The very people we are focused on are now further at risk of declining health due to this outbreak. Although we do not develop vaccines or anti-viral medications, we feel a compelling call to action. We will redouble our efforts to support our patient communities and we will overcome any obstacle to continue our work for people with brain diseases.
In addition to our efforts to continue improving treatments for brain diseases and secure uninterrupted access to our medicines, we are taking specific actions to support people during this unprecedented time. We are collaborating with patient groups to help spread important information and resources, and we are taking steps as individuals to support our patient communities. In addition, we have also made a significant donation to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy COVID-19 Response Fund, to support nonprofit organizations that serve the communities that are most vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.
For the foreseeable future, we’ll be practicing the following simple COVID-19 measures to actively support people with brain diseases, and I urge you to, as well:
Encourage people to stick to their care plan
It is important that people living with a brain disease adhere to their regular health-maintenance plan. If someone you care about takes medication for a brain disease, reassure him or her to take it as usual and not worry about stockpiling or rationing. Lundbeck’s supply chain from manufacturing facility to pharmacy remains intact, and we – like all other biopharmaceutical companies—are committed to doing all we can to maintaining supply of our medicines.
If there are concerns about going out more than necessary, some health plans are lifting refill restrictions and people may be able to pick up a 90-day or greater supply of medication at a time. Mail-order and drive-through pick-up are also options.
If your friend or loved one sees a mental health care provider on a regular basis, ask if those visits can be conducted remotely. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and some private health plans are offering more flexibility for patients to be seen via videoconferencing.
Further, if a mental health or substance-use disorder support group is a part of a maintenance plan, consider online or videoconferencing support.
Know that “social distancing” means physical distancing, not social isolation
Social contact and human interaction are vital to good health. It’s important now to maintain connectedness with people living with brain disease, particularly anyone who you think may be feeling stressed or lonely.
But don’t just text or call; much of communication is accomplished through body language and visual cues. There are lots of ways you can maintain face-to-face social contact without putting anyone at risk. If you can, call via video chat. Visit with a neighbor over the fence, balcony to balcony or from a safe distance on the sidewalk. The important thing is to stay connected and maintain social bonds.
At Lundbeck, we are all working remotely for the time being, but we are using video meetings as much as we can. Barking dogs, kids in laps and views of messy makeshift home offices are our new normal, but these glimpses into our colleagues’ lives simply humanize our shared experience. And that can make a difference in a person’s connectedness and well-being.
Control the controllable and focus on positivity
There is much about the pandemic that causes a sense of powerlessness, and that lack of control increases anxiety. It’s important for people managing brain diseases—indeed, all of us—to regain a sense of control by acknowledging the collective power of the individual measures we are taking to influence the situation. Remind people that staying home is not necessarily disempowering, but rather a positive action to help stop the spread of the virus.
There are also many examples of communities bonding together and supporting each other during this time. Nightly sing-alongs, free online concerts and exercise classes, and volunteers making deliveries for people unable to leave their homes. Finding the stories of goodwill can help ease stress and foster a more hopeful outlook.
This, too, shall pass
Through a coordinated national response, and through individual actions to protect ourselves and others, I am confident we will minimize the impact of this global crisis. Working together, let’s ensure it does not take a disproportionate toll on those impacted by brain disorders.