Almost one in five US adults suffer from some form of mental disorder, and the figure is only slightly lower for the youth population (17%). They range in nature and include a variety of conditions, including depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, eating disorders, addiction, and more. They can impact mood, thought processes, and behaviors and, if left untreated, can have significant negative impacts on all aspects of life, including work, school, family and friends. They can also lead to additional and more serious chronic physical health problems.
Here’s the problem: Only 42% of adults and 51% of children with mental health problems receive treatment, and there’s an average gap of 11 years between the onset of symptoms and initial treatment. Part of the problem is that symptoms are not always easy to detect until they have increased in severity. There’s also the fear of being labeled: 31% of patients have concerns about being judged, and 21% have lied about seeking mental health care. Access can also be a problem, with more than a third of American adults saying they have had to wait more than a week for mental health services. In some areas, the wait can be much longer. A shortage of mental health professionals is still another factor in care access. That can be an even bigger issue for patients who need the support of multiple professionals.
How Telehealth Can Benefit Mental Health Patients and Care Providers
But, there may be a way to get around some of these obstacles using connected health tools. Specifically, virtual visits can help alleviate some of the patient concerns and make it easier for them to find the treatment and support they need to help them cope with these potentially disruptive conditions.
Higher Patient Participation
Telehealth visits can make appointments more convenient and reduce the time required by eliminating travel and wait times. As a result, using virtual care for behavioral health could reduce no-shows resulting from time and travel issues, because patients can see their providers from anywhere, and without having to spend extra time commuting to and from offices. It can also help alleviate concerns about being stigmatized and enable people to receive treatment in privacy, instead of trying to manage conditions on their own.
More Access to Mental Health Professionals
Fewer than half of Americans believe they have sufficient access to mental health services (only 39% of rural patients). Remote consultations and therapy using connected health tools can help alleviate these challenges by removing geographic limitations and enabling patients to more easily find providers. That includes patients in rural locations who may have limited local resources, as well as patients in other areas where healthcare providers may not have immediate openings. In addition, using telehealth for mental health makes it easier for mental health professionals to provide immediate consultations outside regular time frames to help manage emergency situations.
While virtual sessions may initially feel different, once patients get used to the format, they add an element of convenience and comfort that could even help some patients feel more at ease than in professional settings. There are even some things that can be accomplished in a virtual setting that aren’t possible with in-person appointments. For instance, home life can be a factor in mental health treatment, and when patients are at home for sessions, providers may be able to learn more about how they live at home. Patients could even take mental health professionals on tours of their rooms or homes to help create a better understanding and build deeper connections between providers and patients.
With telehealth options, it’s possible for patients to connect more immediately with professionals should they encounter an unexpected situation they have trouble coping with. Instead of having to schedule an appointment, patients may be able to connect much more quickly with their therapists or other professionals to receive support. For some conditions, providers can literally provide real-time support, such as an eating disorder patient having a session while doing grocery shopping, which can provide real-time insight into the patient’s behavior when dealing with food, to help develop a better connection between behavior and thought process.
Remote Medication Adherence Management
Many mental health patients receive medication to help manage their conditions, in addition to regular therapy. Connected health can make it easier for prescriptions to be refilled, helping prevent setbacks due to gaps in medication. Connected pill boxes, automated reminders, and other similar digital tools can also help keep patients on track with their medications.
There’s no simple answer to the mental health problem. They are complex conditions that require individualized care, they can have long-lasting impacts on patients and their families, and they can require lifelong treatment in some cases. But, with the emergence of connected health tools, providing and receiving treatment can become a little easier.