COVID-19 Series: Using Telehealth for Mental Health Care During a Crisis

In addition to the destruction brought by COVID-19 on people’s health, the virus has also led to a major disruption to millions of people and businesses, with stay-at-home and social distancing measures implemented across the country to help manage the spread of the virus.  Millions of workers have been forced to telecommute, millions more have lost their jobs, and students have been pushed into virtual learning scenarios.

Even as states unveil plans for reopening businesses and communities, many questions remain about the virus, its continued spread, and many are predicting a second wave of outbreaks.  It raises continued concerns about employment, education, sports, vacations, social events, and just about every part of Americans’ lives – concerns that can easily elevate stress levels during an already challenging situation.

Nearly half of people who have been complying with shelter-in-place orders believe the added stress from the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health.  It’s reasonable to think that healthcare professionals and other front-line workers who are at risk of exposure to the virus could also experience above normal stress levels.

The Disaster Distress Helpline, a crisis hotline managed by SAMSHA, saw a 338% increase in calls between February and March, coinciding with the start of most stay-at-home orders (and an 891% increase in March 2020 compared to March 2019).

There are also millions of people with pre-existing mental health conditions, who suddenly found their in-person access to professional care restricted due to distancing and stay-at-home policies. More than a quarter of U.S. adults suffer from some form of mental disorder.  In addition to new anxieties due to COVID-19, for many of these patients, ongoing treatment is vital to their well-being.

Like many other healthcare providers, mental health professionals can ensure they can effectively treat patients through telehealth.  Whether for long-term care for chronic behavioral health conditions, or short-term help in coping with COVID-19 issues, virtual visits offer a solution.

Technology Availability –

Providing virtual care doesn’t have to be complicated.  While under normal circumstances, telehealth solutions must comply with HIPAA regulations, OCS has loosened its enforcements of regulations temporarily to allow providers to use many popular communications applications in an effort to increase access to care.

Video conferencing/chat ­–

While voice and messaging can often provide a level of mental health care, especially in a crisis and make it easy for patients to contact their therapists, video offers additional benefits because face-to-face virtual interaction is closer to an in-person experience.  While voice and tone help professionals better evaluate and treat patients, non-verbal cues – like facial expressions and gestures – can help provide even more insight.

Access to Care –

With in-person visits limited during the pandemic, virtual care gives patients access to their therapists to continue treatment for existing conditions, or initiate consultations for new symptoms.  Many providers have reported significant increases in the use of virtual mental health services, including a 600% increase at one Virginia network, and a national provider that is now running 90% of its mental health visits virtually.

Even as states start to lift stay-at-home mandates, in the absence of a proven and available vaccine, it’s likely that many people will continue to be fearful of the risk COVID-19 poses and won’t engage in in-person visits for non-emergencies.  This further increases the potential for virtual behavioral health treatment.  In fact, 45% of respondents in one survey said they would like to have access to more remote mental health services.

To learn how virtual care technologies and other connected health solutions can deliver high-quality patient care during a pandemic, but also on an ongoing basis once this crisis is resolved, visit us here.

The information contained in this blog is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace discussions with a physician or other healthcare provider or your legal counsel.


Meredith leads strategy and execution of Trapollo's comprehensive marketing strategy including events, digital, content, campaigns and social media. She has a passion for bringing awareness to innovative, digital healthcare solutions through marketing programs enabling organizations to fully engage patients and improve patient experiences.