The Power of Telehealth to Increase Access to Mental Health Services
The economic recession and enforced quarantines, lockdowns and social distancing caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted people’s mental health. People worldwide have reported disturbed sleep patterns, increased substance use and alcohol consumption, fear of job loss, feelings of isolation and increased symptoms of existing mental illness.
Not only was there a spike in people experiencing mental health issues, but there were also barriers preventing access to professional care and support, which exacerbated mental health symptoms. Therefore, the world was forced to re-examine how it can deliver health care to patients while reducing exposure to the virus—and responded to the disruption by leveraging telehealth technology.
What is Telehealth?
The World Health Organization defines telehealth as the "delivery of health care services, where patients and providers are separated by distance.”
Telehealth leverages communication technologies, such as smartphones and personal computers, and digital information to access and deliver health care services remotely. For mental health patients, this may involve meeting their therapist via videoconference to discuss symptoms, triggers, ongoing care, home care strategies and coping measures. During a virtual appointment, a therapist may determine whether an in-person visit or additional medical care is necessary.
The Future of Mental Health Treatment and Telehealth
Telehealth is compatible with mental health treatment because mental health professionals typically don’t have to conduct a physical exam on their patients. Also, because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, many people have reported putting off seeking help in fear of being recognized or judged when they visit a mental health facility. Telehealth helps eliminate this fear because all sessions are done in confidence and the privacy of your own home. Most importantly, telehealth programs may connect patients suffering from mental and behavioral health issues with their care providers when counseling is crucial in preventing a life-threatening crisis.
Because of the power of the telehealth model to increase access to mental health services, governments worldwide are evaluating their budgets to implement more telehealth services, invest in infrastructure and regulate telehealth programs. Many practitioners and healthcare systems are already integrating and adjusting to telehealth technologies and platforms. Software and tools are also evolving and addressing gaps in integration and implementation.
Telehealth at Communicare
Here at Communicare, we’ve offered Telehealth counseling since the beginning of the pandemic to ensure our clients’ uninterrupted access to care and support. We’ve successfully continued treatment for substance use disorders, mental health conditions and individual, group and family therapy.
When the safest course of action was social distancing—leading to social isolation for many—our phone and video conferences provided much-needed connection and support. Access to therapists, support peers and more was critical during very difficult days for individuals who were struggling with new and unprecedented stressors in addition to the normal challenges of life.
Beginning July 1, we’re using telehealth on a limited basis, as in person has the greatest effect, but telehealth remains a powerful tool in our work to ensure access to quality mental health services to all.
To learn more about the future of mental health treatment, please take a look at our services and don’t hesitate to contact us! You can call our 24-hour Crisis Line at any time to reach our mobile crisis team, who respond to substance use, mental health and IDD crises: 866-837-7521.