How telemedicine can help fight the mental health crisis

According to WHO, 1 in every 8 individuals worldwide deal with a mental disorder. In 2019, around 970 million people globally were living with conditions like anxiety and depressive disorders. However, in 2020, the number significantly increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A mental disorder is a severe disturbance in an individual’s emotional regulation, behavior or cognition and is associated with impairment in different life areas. There are several types of mental disorders, such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and personality disorders. 

These health conditions are so common, yet they are often neglected for several reasons. More often than not, people feel scared to seek help because the stigma surrounding mental health issues still exists. However, mental health issues are as important as physical conditions and require adequate treatment. On the contrary, neglecting them over an extended period can adversely affect individuals. Fortunately, telehealth is here to revolutionize the health care system, and the impact on the psychiatric sector is significant.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth means making the most of communications technologies to provide remote health care. Such technologies involve computers and mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets. Telehealth also comprises technology health providers use to enhance health care services. Here are its main purposes:

  • Provide primary care for several health conditions;
  • Offer practical advice on how to take care of your health;
  • Enhance communication among the health care provider and the person who benefits from their services;
  • Make health care accessible to people with movement, time or transportation limitations.

What does telehealth for mental health look like?

 During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an increase in using telehealth services for both mental and physical conditions. The distressing event has taken a toll on people’s mental health, often worsening the symptoms of a specific disorder. Telehealth has played a significant role in helping people access mental health services during such challenging times. And while virtual outpatient wasn’t so common after the pandemic, around 36% of patients struggling with a mental health disorder still turn to telehealth in 2022.

While some individuals are skeptical about using telehealth to treat mental health disorders, research shows it definitely works. In their studies, mental health experts have concluded that the outcomes of receiving remote health care are as efficient as in person-appointment. Moreover, research also shows that telehealth may be more efficient for some individuals in the long run. This is because you can easily access and keep up with the services.

Coping with a mental disorder can be incredibly challenging. While self-help techniques can help reduce some of the stress, treating the condition is impossible unless you seek professional help. Therapy can give you the tools you need to manage your symptoms and improve the quality of your life. It can help you better understand your condition, feelings and behavior and teach you essential skills that will be beneficial in the long run. There are different types of psychotherapy, each of them designed to boost your mental wellbeing. While sometimes therapy can take only a few months, other people need long-term treatment.

The therapist you end up working with should make you feel comfortable and safe. They should offer you compassion and empathy and be patient and understanding. It may take a while to find a suitable fit, but it’s worth the effort, as at some point, you’ll be glad you reached out for professional help.

Removing the obstacles toward mental health care

When mental health disorders are left untreated, they can affect your ability to live a fulfilling life and carry on with life’s duties. Moreover, they can also result in physical and social issues with severe consequences. Improving access to mental healthcare isn’t only beneficial for the individuals themselves but also for the community as a whole. It can dramatically decrease employment issues, substance abuse, family conflict, and suicide risk. Several obstacles prevent individuals from getting treatment, such as a lack of mental health professionals, financial barriers, social stigma, and lack of mental health education.

Fortunately, telemedicine can help remove some of these barriers. Patients can now choose remote healthcare to consult with a mental health expert via live video. Patients living in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals can now get help without driving a long distance. Virtual appointments make a significant difference for patients who can’t transport themselves due to finances or lack of transportation support. Convenience is one of the essential benefits of telehealth, but others are also worth noting, such as affordability. As mentioned previously, the cost is a significant barrier that prevents patients from getting the help they need. Besides the money they need to pay for the appointments, commuting also involves several expenses, such as mileage on their vehicle, time away from their job, or public transportation fees. However, telehealth eliminates travel-related expenses that can quickly add up if you need weekly therapy.

Ease of communication is another great benefit of telehealth, as it enables communication via technology. This makes it very convenient for mental health experts to speak with their patients and monitor them in real-time. They can provide patients with valuable resources, such as coping techniques and mental health information, and send appointment reminders. It takes only one click to do all these things, which is fantastic, considering that in person-appointments don’t provide you with such an opportunity. Telehealth allows healthcare providers to monitor patients’ symptoms through telemedicine apps and remote sensors. Telemedicine’s virtual landscape makes it quick and efficient to provide treatment and follow-up with patients, reducing delays that are common when making an in-person appointment.

Does telehealth mean there’s no room for in-clinic visits anymore?

Of course not! While patients don’t want to return to the old system due to telehealth’s compelling benefits, this definitely doesn’t mean in-clinic visits are completely gone. Certain activities such as taking blood samples or testing heart rates or hearing still require a physical presence. And there will be times when patients have to meet their doctors face to face.

However, providers should look for ways to improve their processes and how they can solve critical parts efficiently. For instance, someone could easily perform rating scale answers or answer interview questions without having to drive all the way to a clinic. And instead of calling patients, providers could offer medical devices to patients for remote treatment monitoring.

The most efficient model that would completely change the future of medicine is merging the benefits of both in-person visits and remote healthcare.