Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, many have been struggling to find ways to help those being impacted by the illness or on the frontlines. Especially as city leaders continue to ask their citizens to stay home to slow the spread of the virus.
Public Health Advocates and community volunteers have been quick to adapt and establish ways for those stuck at home to offer a helping hand to those who need it most. They have come up with clever ways to take initiative while social distancing.
In the face of the growing crisis, a group of high school and college students were quick to act. This group included, Aakshi Agarwal, Hannah Verma, and Siddharth Jain–three Yale Undergrads–and Arjun Verma, a rising junior in high school. They partnered up to found Telehealth Access for Seniors, a non-profit that provides electronic devices to Senior Citizens and other vulnerable populations.
This way, they can connect with their physicians via Telehealth, rather than put their lives and others’ at risk by seeking out in-person care.
We caught up with the founding team of Telehealth Access for Seniors to learn more about their organization’s origins. Also learning how it is impacting the people who need it most and what it means for them to serve vulnerable populations while also juggling the responsibilities of a typical 17-21-year-old student.
Issa: Where did the idea for Telehealth Access for Seniors come from? Did you all struggle a bit before settling on its current state and structure?
Aakshi: The idea from TeleHealth Access for Seniors originated when Hannah and Arjun overheard their parents, who are physicians, worrying about how their patients with chronic conditions would make it through the pandemic using TeleMedicine when they only had a flip phone. Arjun had this great idea to connect them to some of his old devices and then Hannah realized we could do this at a larger scale.
Hannah asked me about expanding it in Connecticut, where I am, because we were close friends and both interested in healthcare. I am heavily involved in education and came up with bringing in educational resources like guides and tech-support. We combined all of our ideas to make TeleHealth Access for Seniors.
I also brought in the idea to focus on donating to Veterans Hospitals because of my experience working with veterans at my Congresswoman’s office as an intern. We definitely played around with a lot of structures for how to keep in touch with so many volunteers.
For example, when we were smaller, we had 2 volunteer coordinators and us 3 co-founders calling every state’s volunteers to check-in with them. As we grew, it became unsustainable. Now, we have state leads doing check-ins. Like this, we have had to make a lot of adjustments!
Issa: Can you walk me through the donation and distribution process? What type of instructions and/or support does TAFS offer to recipients of devices?
Arjun: If someone would like to donate a device, they can fill out the form on our website. Every donor should try to reset, sanitize, and upgrade the device to the best of their ability. Volunteers in their region are notified, and they will coordinate shipping or a pick-up with the donor. Once the volunteers have received the device, they then check to make sure that the device has been properly reset, sanitized, and upgraded.
Volunteers then package each device with a charger and instructional guides before distributing it to the practice. These guides provide step-by-step instructions on how to set up a phone, email, and video conferencing apps, along with tips on looking for symptoms of COVID-19 and how to have good financial practices.
Because of patient privacy laws, it is the medical practice that identifies and then distributes each device to patients in need. If the patient has any questions, we also provide them with a tech support number to call where we have volunteers ready to answer questions at any time!
Issa: You all are college students, and I noticed that the majority of those who are on the Telehealth Access for Senior team or volunteer for your organization are also students. What has been your experience with creating and running a non-profit while also juggling classwork, clubs, jobs, and family commitments, especially with the added pressure of handling everything during a pandemic?
Arjun: While we have been running this organization, our administrators along with our volunteers have all been balancing studying for a variety of standardized tests, working on schoolwork, and spending time with our families while also putting all of our efforts into this organization.
We all have our individual tasks of organizing meetings, coordinating volunteer drop-offs, keeping records of donations along with actually soliciting devices. Our volunteers are all dedicated and hard-working, so all of them have still been able to help immensely in our goal of helping every senior and veteran get access to healthcare. Despite the struggles, it’s still been an extremely rewarding experience.
Issa: You all put emphasis on being socially-conscious and have expanded to support low-income communities as part of your initiative. How and why did you all decide to shift the initiative to focus on supporting multiple disadvantaged communities, rather than just Seniors with limited electronic access?
Aakshi: All of us definitely have a passion for healthcare in different ways and have had varied experiences of our own with healthcare access whether it be personally or through family members. Those experiences really informed us to want to serve those in underserved communities from a young age, so we began this organization with a focus on helping those who were most at risk and most at need.
This began with the name focus on Senior Citizens because the pandemic definitely highlighted a need to help seniors given how much they are affected by the coronavirus. As the pandemic worsened, our definition of who was most at risk and had the most need grew.
For example, we recognized an early focus for helping veterans as they tend to be lower-income and statistically have used TeleMedicine less.
Issa: What’s in store for Telehealth Access for Seniors? The future of the pandemic is unknown, so I imagine its course may impact any developments you all are working on, but do you think that there will still be a demand for electronic access in the time after COVID-19? In what way do you see TAFS adapting to address similar, but unrelated, electronic-access issues?
Hannah: As we’ve heard from many providers, Telehealth appointments are the future of medicine. For routine check-ups, they save a lot of time and resources on both ends. The healthcare industry has long been trying to shift to a virtual model, but there was a lot of hesitancy to make that change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that telehealth is not just a short-term substitute, but rather a long term solution.
We know that there will be high demand and use of these devices for appointments in the future, but cost barriers and age barriers will continue to be an issue for tech literacy for the patient populations we are focused on helping, like veterans and seniors.
We hope to continue addressing this for years to come, perhaps through large scale device recycling programs to repurpose them for patients in need. We are mainly focused on health as our mission, but we are also addressing wellness and connectivity through our guides, and we hope to branch out more to advocacy as well.
Issa: Is there anything you haven’t had the opportunity to share that you would like to?
Hannah: We are constantly looking for more donations! Even a $5 contribution to our GoFundMe allows us to buy chargers. If you work at a larger organization, we’d appreciate your spreading the word amongst your team to potentially have a company contribution.
Why wearing a mask is everyone’s business
Almost 20 million people have contracted COVID-19 and there have been over half a million deaths as well. Public health experts have emphasized the use of face coverings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. In response, extremist groups have taken to rallying against the use of masks, claiming the required use of masks is an infringement on their rights.
“Masks make us slaves,” mentioned a lady from Berlin.
“Let kids be kids. No masks,” mentioned another from a Salt Lake City protest.
The use of masks has been encouraged extensively for its effectiveness in retaining bodily fluid that spreads germs and, if contracted, COVID-19. There are countless graphics and scientific studies that prove the benefits of using masks in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
Even so, a Florida restaurant owner, against mandated mask use, offered an anti-mask extremist group free meals at his restaurant, which violated Orange County’s mandate to wear masks in public spaces. Now, Florida is the world’s new epicenter for the virus.
The use of masks, as well as the handle of the virus, has become a political topic to be debated rather than a humanitarian emergency.
When public officials require the use of masks, there is a perception that constitutional rights are being infringed. However, in that thought, there’s a selfish disregard for those that don’t have basic human needs met, such as access to proper healthcare.
This pandemic has exposed the deep-rooted systemic disparities that exist in low-income families’ lack of access to healthcare.
Those that feel so inclined to attend rallies and protest the use of masks feel secure in their access to healthcare, the quality of treatment they may be receiving, and the fact that they can financially afford to be incapacitated by the virus. That is not a luxury that everyone has.
Nevertheless, those against the use of masks are constantly in contention with the public officials that require them.
Treating masks as something worth debating invalidates the lives of those who don’t have any of the aforementioned luxuries.
Additionally, it creates an excess of conversation around something timely that can cost people’s lives.
Some people have taken to social media to voice these protests.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color, but with the Black Lives Matter movement necessitating protest and attention, communities of color have had to endure two intense traumas.
Politicians have taken the opportunity to politicize the pandemic at the expense of communities of color. And as the aforementioned tweet pointed out, some people just don’t recognize oppression and thus minimize others’ experiences for their benefit.
People have forgotten to listen to the real experts, those that are informed on the risks of the virus, and are knowledgeable about how it spreads and how to contain it. Instead, they focus on those wanting to start speculative arguments, while millions continue to die.
4 Psychedelic Drugs That Are Shockingly Beneficial in Treating Mental Health Issues
Psychedelic drugs have been used across cultures for centuries, but only recently has modern science begun to tap into the potential use of these drugs as a mental health treatment.
The word psychedelic comes from two Greek roots: “psyche,” meaning mind/soul, and “Delos/delic,” meaning to reveal. Thus, the word translates to “soul/ mind revealing.”
Unfortunately, for this potentially revolutionary mental health treatment, the long-held stigma towards drugs continues to complicate research. For a while, this made it nearly impossible to continue looking into the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. These restrictions are loosening, however, and the FDA has even called psilocybin therapy a “breakthrough therapy.” This means more and more researchers are able to study these drugs. The findings are often groundbreaking.
Trials are currently underway to test psychedelic drugs including psilocybin, LSD, ketamine, and others in order to treat a predicted mental health epidemic that is beginning to occur as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While more research is needed, preliminary findings are shockingly successful in treating mental health issues including, but not limited to, PTSD, depression, drug addiction, and anxiety.
Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
Research done with Psilocybin suggests that it may be successful in providing a lasting decrease in anxiety for people suffering from life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
In combination with therapy, the drug helped 13 participants “grapple with loss and existential distress.” Nearly all participants reported that they developed a different understanding of dying after using the drug according to Gabby Agin-Liebes, BA, of Palo Alto University, who conducted the research.
“Participants made spiritual or religious interpretations of their experience and the psilocybin treatment helped facilitate a reconnection to life, greater mindfulness and presence, and gave them more confidence when faced with cancer recurrence,” said Agin-Liebes.
Another study suggests that psilocybin can be used on patients with treatment-resistant depression with promising results. The results show symptom improvements for the patients after just two psilocybin treatment sessions which remained significant 6 months after the treatment.
Ayahuasca has played an important part in many South American traditional religions for centuries. This plant-derived psychoactive drug was first formulated by indigenous South Americans of the Amazon basin.
Some communities that use the drug regularly still exist in the 21st century despite exploitative measures of Western nations who saw the drug as “uncivilized.” The substance is typically prepared by a shaman or religious guide and ingested by members of a religious group. The substance is regarded as a valuable tool in places of worship.
Ayahuasca has only recently been studied as a potential treatment for depression and addiction, or for people coping with trauma.
“We found that ayahuasca also fostered an increase in generosity, spiritual connection and altruism,” said Clancy Cavnar, PhD, with Núcleo de Estudos Interdisciplinares sobre Psicoativos.
Adele Lafrance, Ph.D., of Laurentian University, highlighted a study of 159 participants who reported on past use of hallucinogens and their emotions and spirituality levels. The study found that using hallucinogens related to a higher level of spirituality and emotional wellbeing as well as fewer symptoms of disordered eating, depression, and anxiety.
A 2016 study found that after taking LSD, healthy participants reported increased optimism and trait openness. The study seems to reinforce the idea that psychedelics improve psychological wellbeing in the mid-long term.
LSD, like Psilocybin and Ayahuasca, shows promise as a treatment for anxiety and depression among other conditions. It is also commonly reported to increase spirituality and, in turn, emotional wellbeing.
In an interview with an anonymous source, they claimed that taking LSD substantially decreased their levels of social anxiety.
“Going into the trip, I set an intention to address my feelings of anxiety around my self-perception,” they said. “By focusing on this throughout the trip, I was shocked by how much happier I felt afterward.”
They say that the positive effects have continued in the months following the experience. “I can’t believe how much more self-assured I feel now. It is like night and day.”
They want to remind everyone that it is a serious drug and not to underestimate the power of it, and not to abuse it. “If you are going to trip, you need to do a lot of research and be in a safe environment with people you trust.” While they continue to experience long-term positive effects, they know it is not the same for everyone.
MDMA, more commonly known as ecstasy, is in its third and last phase of clinical trials and is hoping to win approval by the FDA to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Findings from the study also suggest that the drug can help treat social anxiety in autistic adults when used in combination with psychotherapy. Twelve adults in the study with moderate to severe anxiety showed “significant and long-lasting reductions in their symptoms” according to the research.
“Social anxiety is prevalent in autistic adults and few treatment options have been shown to be effective,” said Alicia Danforth, Ph.D., of the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who conducted the study. MDMA and therapy, based on this research, could be a potential breakthrough for this condition.
These studies only represent a small percentage of a larger database of information on the potential benefits of psychedelic drugs. While the findings are promising, more research is needed. Self-treatment using these drugs is risky and potentially dangerous.
If you are interested, contact a medical professional and continue to do extensive research before taking any type of psychedelic. Waiting until they are an FDA approved treatment option will be the safest and most effective way to treat any mental health condition.
How I Began to Live More Meaningfully and How You Can Too
It took me a while to get to this point. I first realized—and I mean really realized— I had a problem during my freshman year of college. But my issues went back years and years.
I think we’d all like to believe that our problem can be summed up in one little diagnosis or one word, but that’s not how it works at all.
For me, my anxiety feeds into my body image issues, which feed into a lack of self-esteem, which then circles back to my anxiety.
When I did realize that I wasn’t okay and that the way I was feeling wasn’t sustainable, I decided to do nothing. I actively decided that there was no possible way to change how I felt and that I would always feel this way.
I would never be able to look in the mirror and not ache. I would never be able to break free of the self-pitying, cynical voice in my head. I wouldn’t be able to break away from my social anxiety and the constant fear that I wasn’t good enough and never would be.
I continued to believe this and live this way for a year. I smiled, laughed, and got good grades, but I actually wished I was someone completely different; someone, better. Not everyone wears their anxiety publicly; like covering myself up with a coat, mine was kept hidden until no one was looking.
It wasn’t until the fall of my sophomore year that I finally told a friend that I was struggling. I spent that entire quarter in a fog—I cried walking to and from class, sometimes leaving in the middle of lectures to hyperventilate in the bathroom. I had a single dorm room at the time, and I spent most of my time there, crying alone instead of in my usual haunts with friends.
It was there, in my room, that I finally told my friend everything. It was pure coincidence; she would often come bang on my door to scare me and then I’d invite her in and we’d chat and watch TV together. But this time, she caught me crying. Of course, I told her to go away; I convinced myself that I could handle everything alone like I always had.
But she didn’t leave. She waited outside the door listening, I guess. She waited a few more minutes, and knocked more softly and asked again if she could come in. I wiped off my face, put on my goofy, self-deprecating grin, and opened the door.
I probably lied, said something about what an idiot I was, pretended I was crying over a TV show or commercial.
What my friend did next saved me. She just sat cross-legged on my bed and waited for me to tell her everything, so I did. I told her the full truth that I had never told anyone before (and have told only one other person since). She listened and broke in rarely. And when I was all done, she told me I should go to the Counseling and Psychological Services at our university.
When I resolutely told her that I could still deal with it alone, she didn’t push me any farther. She just said that she valued me, even when I didn’t value myself. That she would always listen, though she couldn’t promise that she wouldn’t offer advice afterward.
She said that she loved me and that when I look in the mirror, I should tell myself I am beautiful, even if I didn’t believe it at first.
She saw the signs that my own mother didn’t. She noticed the way my smile would drop when no one was looking. She noticed when I would leave our circle of friends to be alone, only to come back with another fake grin.
She noticed how I avoided my own reflection like the plague. She had noticed that her friend could still smile and carry on while being in pain on the inside.
At the time, it felt inconsequential. I would go on to talk to her many times, and it was only because of her that I finally did seek help by calling a therapist.
I came to the realization that it simply wasn’t fair to treat her and her acts of friendship as therapy.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a friend who will take on that role while they are also trying to take care of themselves. She not only listened, but she pushed me to seek help and understood my emotions and pain though they were illogical and nonsensical at times.
I definitely should have sought help sooner. I assumed the painful conversations I had with my friend were not helping me, but I was wrong. I began to accept myself for who I was instead of hating myself for the person I thought I saw in the mirror.
No one deserves to hate themselves, though I spent a lot of time convincing myself otherwise. I hated myself for being so pitiful and for crying so much. I hated myself for not being able to control my eating better and for not looking like an Insta-model.
Frankly, it wasn’t fair of me to lean so heavily on a friend for so long, but I can’t express how grateful I am to her for letting me do so. During that period, I wasn’t giving back to that relationship nearly as much as I received. She did not deserve to bear the full brunt of my problems on her shoulders the way she did.
I’ve only just started therapy over quarantine, but it has not yet cured all my problems. Just a few months of counseling have not “fixed” me, nor have my anxieties and pain melted away.
But, I do know that I am getting there instead of just wallowing in my own feelings and self-directed anger. It honestly feels really good to take action against this negative attitude that has weighed me down for years. Some days, I even feel good when looking at myself in the mirror.
If you or your friend is suffering silently, please consider calling a hotline or the counseling service at your university or place of work. Money is secondary. What others think of you is secondary. You deserve to live meaningfully; you are worth more than the barriers that stand between you and your mental health.
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