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Press Release -- October 9th, 2020
Source: AT&T

COVID-19 Makes World Mental Health Day Mission Critical

Accessibility is more important than ever before for those with mental health issues – and right now, that includes almost everyone. A recent study from Statista1 showed that, in the U.S. alone, a third of adults reported their mental health had suffered as a result of the pandemic.

Man using tablet device.

This makes World Mental Health Day, observed globally Oct. 10, mission critical for 2020. To help us understand how to safeguard mental health in times of extreme stress we turned to an experienced source: veterans.

“Mental health is a situation that’s totally compounded by the pandemic,” said Jeff Cole, president and CEO of the Veteran Employee Group at AT&T. “Contact and interaction are more important than ever and cannot become lost in the chaos.”

More than anything else, connection is essential to wellbeing, particularly in times of stress. At this moment in time, technology is the foundation of many of these interactions.   And, for those who live at the intersection of disability and mental health, digital accessibility has never been more essential.

And why is accessibility so important to the successful use of technology to form connections?

Cognitive, learning, and neurological disabilities that involve neurological disorders, as well as behavioral and mental health disorders, all impact how well people process and comprehend information. This can be particularly true for the veteran population. According to the ADA Network,2 nearly a third or, 3.5 million, of the 12 million veterans ages 21-64 (prime working age) report having a disability. Of those, more than 10% have difficulty with issues including hearing, vision and cognition.

Veterans are also, for various reasons, more susceptible to depression and worse. Almost 20 veterans a day die by suicide. Jeff said even veterans who successfully transition from the military to the business world can struggle to find purpose in their work and establish the sense of community they had in the service.

Jeff said the isolation that COVID-19 demands and the environmental, social and political unrest occurring in the world make it easy for anyone to slip into a “cave mentality.” That “cave” can be the worst place in the world for someone who may already be in a less than ideal mental state. That’s where technology comes into play during a pandemic – whether it’s you or someone you care about who may be struggling.

“Stay engaged – don’t check out,” he said.

A man holding a coffee cup

Using accessible technology to promote mental wellbeing

Ensure your online interactions build healthy connections by practicing these guidelines to digital accessibility:

  1. 1. Use familiar technology.
    If you’re having trouble connecting with someone, don’t generate more frustration by introducing unfamiliar technology. “Engage in a way that you or the other person find easy or convenient,” Jeff said.
  2. 2. Be helpful and encouraging.
    If the person you’re trying to reach is having technical difficulties, try to provide assistance where you can with online platform use. Encourage them when they find a work-around … or to get a techie involved if not.
  3. 3. Be an advocate.
    If you learn of or experience a specific difficulty an at-risk or a person with a disability is having with a device or platform, take that issue to the source. Explain to the provider how it’s not working or helpful.
  4. 4. Refer to the experts.
    Identify resources to refer to for help. Connecting is a powerful experience, especially when someone is hurting or in trouble. But, unless you are a certified professional, there likely are limits to the amount of help you alone can provide.
  5. 5. Be persistent.
    If you or a loved one are struggling, giving up isn’t an option. “Don’t think that you will make it worse by reaching out,” Jeff said. “Don’t back off. A successful connection can make all of the difference.”

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