May is National Mental Health Awareness Month – and there’s a good reason an entire month is dedicated to it. Mental health is a significant problem that that is only growing. In fact, the President, himself, signed a proclamation recognizing National Mental Health Awareness Month, noting not only the increase in mental health cases, but that, “We must treat this as the public health crisis that it is and reverse this trend.”
Even before the pandemic struck, the number of American adults experiencing a mental illness had grown. Youth mental health concerns are also on the rise, with nearly 10% of U.S. youth suffering from severe major depression.
The problem is that more than half of adults with a mental condition (56%) and youth with depression (62%) don’t get treatment, which can have several negative effects.
The good news is there are easy ways to start understanding if you or a loved one might need mental health support through confidential online self-screening. Not surprisingly, the number of people looking for help for anxiety and depression grew significantly during the pandemic.
But that’s not where digital mental health services end. In fact, it’s only the beginning, and five years ago, well before the COVID-19 pandemic increased awareness of telehealth, 72% of 18-44 year olds were willing to receive treatment for mental health conditions through virtual visits instead of traditional face-to-face visits. Connected health solutions can be an effective way to increase mental health availability while addressing some of the ongoing concerns patients have.
Ease of Scheduling and Missed Appointments
Online scheduling can make it easier for patients to schedule or change appointments at their convenience times without having to go back and forth with providers about available times. Healthcare providers can also send automated reminders to patients to reduce missed appointments and help them stay on track with treatment. By using digital tools for scheduling and reminders, therapists and other staff can free up more time for other tasks, including seeing more patients.
Convenience and Privacy
Virtual sessions using telehealth tools can make treatment sessions more convenient and easier to schedule. Patients need less time for sessions because travel time is eliminated – along with travel costs. Virtual care also helps reduce the impact of stigma, because patients can have sessions from the privacy of their homes or offices without having to worry about others seeing where they are going.
Effectiveness of care
For some conditions, blood work or other tests, scans or measurements may be necessary but, for many mental health conditions, providers can deliver treatment entirely in virtual environments. Studies have shown that using telehealth for mental health treatment can be as effective as traditional in-person models. In fact, more than half of patients who moved to virtual treatment during the pandemic are likely to continue with it even when in-person appointments are available.
Access to Professionals
Like general medicine, there is an existing shortage of mental health professionals. More than a third of the U.S. population lives in designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas, and the available mental health practitioners are able to meet the needs of a mere 27% of people needing care. Telehealth tools can make it easier for patients and therapists to connect across longer distances and increase access to care where it might otherwise not be available, or where demand is so high that appointments simply can’t be scheduled.
Telehealth provides a quick and easy way for patients to connect with their therapists or other mental health professionals when experiencing anxiety attacks or other episodes that require immediate attention.
There’s no question mental health is a significant problem, and one has only gotten worse during the past year. While there are existing challenges with mental health treatment that are similar to many of the challenges faced by the general healthcare community, technology can help solve some of them and lead the way to better care for patients through connected health solutions. Use and awareness of these tools can help to increase access to and use of treatment providers for patients of all ages with mental health needs.
To learn more about using connected health tools to support mental health or other patients, connect with us here.