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Telemedicine’s Pivotal Role in Improving Mental Health

Living with a mental illness can be isolating and difficult. The long-standing stigma connected with mental illness, along with limited treatment accessibility, patients’ fear of the potential repercussions of family, friends, and employers finding out about their condition, have kept many individuals from seeking the support they need. Fortunately, these trends are starting to shift in a more positive direction.

Although some stigma and shame still surround such illnesses as depression, anxiety, OCD, and bipolar disorder, people are beginning to feel more comfortable about sharing their own struggles and finding support from others online. Telehealth and an interconnected world are coming together to end stigma, and help people manage their mental health in a more effective way.

Perspectives About Behavioral Health Problems Are Improving

Technology has helped us to connect with one another in many positive ways, but this interconnectivity has been a double-edged sword for mental health. Social media and smartphones have led to a 24/7 lifestyle that can exacerbate or even create mental health issues. With that said, technology has also opened up a dialogue that is beginning to change the conversation and do away with the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Thanks to those who have shared their experiences online, more people are beginning to realize that mental illness is quite common. Ultimately, this change should mean that more people feel comfortable seeking treatment so they can live a healthy, more productive life.

Services Are Becoming More Accessible

Limited access to treatment has always been an obstacle for people seeking mental health services. Finding a therapist locally can be a challenge, because many mental health professionals may not accept some forms of insurance, or do not treat a patient’s needs. A 2017 Milliman report illustrated the shortage of mental health professionals nationwide, with only 8.9 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people, which leads to many people seeking treatment while waiting months to get help.

The American Psychiatric Association fully supports telepsychiatry, now that telehealth has shown it can improve accessibility and enable patients to get the help they need without the struggle. Patients and professionals have found that therapy sessions via video chat and other remote services are as good as “face to face” sessions. Telehealth support is also key for patients with  mental health needs; they can consult with a specialist without having to travel.

Telehealth is increasingly being utilized in emergency situations. Patients who are experiencing a mental health emergency can reach out to professionals 24/7 and receive remote monitoring when necessary. This helps to allow patients to maintain their independence while ensuring they have the support they need.

More Specialists Are Needed to Pave the Way Toward Change

Now that more people are opening up about their mental health challenges, many others are becoming inspired to take charge of their own mental health. That’s creating an unprecedented demand for behavioral health services in both traditional models and telemedicine. While this signals a positive cultural shift, the healthcare system is not prepared for this growing influx of new patients.

There are many mental health resources available to help people cope with common mental illnesses, but what is needed long-term is more mental health specialists. To ensure that every American has access to high-quality behavioral healthcare, we need more people to enter this growing field. According to some estimates, 70,000 mental health specialists in several disciplines will be necessary to meet demand by 2025.

The good news? Healthcare organizations are increasingly adapting to new trends to meet patients’ needs. Thanks to new same-day programs and mental health professionals at primary care facilities, patients can now get help in as little as 30 minutes.

Should You Pursue a Career in Behavioral Health?

A career in mental health is a great option for people who are committed to helping others.  While becoming a behavioral health professional takes time and extensive education, it can be a satisfying career, and specializing in telemedicine is a great way to help solve the shortage of qualified professionals.

About the Author

Nancy Goldwyn is an informatics specialist with Applied Nursing Research.

 


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