Mental health concerns are rapidly growing on a global scale, yet the shortage of mental health professionals and access to treatment is leaving millions of people left to fend for themselves.
Mental Health is a Worldwide Issue
One in four people across the world will be impacted by a mental or neurological disorder at some point throughout their life.
In the United States alone, around one in five adults have reported having an unmet need in regards to mental health care – that’s more than nine million people. Neglecting mental illnesses over extended periods of time can have adverse effects on the individual and society at whole.
With other societal issues, such as the opioid epidemic, the demand for mental health treatment and accessible substance abuse treatment are skyrocketing, especially in rural areas where these challenges are common and access to care can be difficult.
Among mental health disorders, anxiety disorders are most common. Recently it was found that an estimated one trillion dollars was lost in economic activity worldwide due to anxiety and depression.
Obstacles to Receiving Mental Health Treatment
Unfortunately, there are several obstacles that prevent people with mental illnesses from seeking treatment.
Shortage of Care and Access
In the US, approximately 111 million people live in areas reported to have a “mental health professional shortage”. About half of the counties in the US do not provide access to even one psychiatrist.
On a global scale, over 40 percent of countries do not have a mental health policy, 30 percent lack a mental health program of any kind, and 25 percent do not have mental health legislation. This is leaving millions of people without access to mental health treatment.
Stigma and Fear
The shortage of mental health professionals and treatment is not the only obstacle preventing people from necessary care.
Another common reason individuals do not receive treatment is due to fear and stigma. Stigma refers to “the fear of shame associated with acknowledging mental illness and seeking out the help of a professional”. While mental health is becoming more widely accepted and understood, stigma still exists, especially in places where mental health education may be lacking.
Two-thirds of individuals with a mental health disorder do not seek professional help and in a recent study, it was discovered that 80 percent of adults believe mental illness treatment is effective, but only 35 to 67 percent believe that people are caring and sympathetic towards individuals with a mental illness. In the US, one in five adults has a mental illness, but only about half seek out treatment.
A Silver Lining: Mental Health Practitioners Can Now Be More Accessible Than Ever
The current mental health landscape can seem bleak, especially when so many people require treatment, but don’t have access or don’t understand the importance of seeking help. However, there is a silver lining that can be found in the emergence of telehealth.
Telehealth is helping to make mental health services more accessible throughout the U.S. and throughout the world, but many practitioners are not familiar with all the ins and outs of using the platform and adjustments or best practices that need to be made in order to effectively deliver remote services.
That is where telepractice training and certification in mental health comes in. The training covers all the fundamentals that psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals will need to know before administering telehealth.
The IBCCES telepractice certification helps to both ensure that the practitioner knows best practices and guidelines when administering services through this new medium, as well as shows other professionals and clients that they are qualified through a third party certification and credential.
Overview of Telehealth
The use of a telehealth model has been around since the 1990s, but has recently gained incredible traction. Many health professionals are seeing just how crucial it is to have the option to provide services vrtually, especially with the disruption of COVID-19. As resurgences of the virus happen it is vital for psychiatrists and therapists alike to be able to continue treating their patients.
Expansion of Telehealth in the U.S. and in Other Countries
There have been a number of changes that have taken place in the U.S. as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, many of which come from the CARES Act which was passed by Congress.
Leaders in mental health have been some of the first to adopt the telehealth model, but it is becoming more and more accessible across the globe. Since Medicare expanded telemedicine coverage in the U.S. for seven mental health services in 2015, other insurance companies have taken similar steps in helping telehealth become a common avenue to deliver services.
Countries across the world are also looking into the possibility of a telehealth model. For example, in India, leaders are determined to change their current position within the mental health field. Though the country lacks some technological infrastructure, initiatives have been put in place to start changing this so that mental health services can be available to just about anyone with internet access.
Telehealth a Better Fit For Mental Health Professionals
Telepsychology is a great model for mental health professionals to adopt because mental health treatment typically does not require a physical exam which means the entire session can be delivered virtually. Telehealth also has the flexibility to be combined with in-person visits if desired.
The explosion of the telehealth model will only continue to gain popularity. A survey conducted by Price Waterhouse-Cooper found that 72 percent of respondents between ages 18 and 44 were willing to receive mental health treatment via telehealth instead of face-to-face.
Today’s modern technology means that telehealth is essentially ever-expanding. There is no limit to what apps can do and the simple integrations between our phones and computers can give just about anyone access to the help they need no matter where they are. It is time to start using technology to benefit society and close the gap between individuals with mental illness and access to treatment.
Benefits of Telepractice for Mental Health
Telehealth has the opportunity to completely transform how we perceive mental health and how individuals receive treatment. Some of the major benefits that telehealth can provide when it comes to mental health are discussed below.
Mitigate the Shortage of Mental Health Professionals
As mental illnesses become more and more common, we are beginning to understand on a global scale just how important mental health is. However, we still do not have enough mental health professionals to treat the millions of people who require care.
Telehealth is a wonderful option to lessen the gap because it only requires that the patient has a stable internet connection and a laptop, computer, tablet, or smart phone with a camera. The simplicity of telehealth allows mental health professionals to access their patients regardless of location.
For example, a mental health professional in an urban area could reach someone in a rural, remote area who normally would not have access to treatment. Even Walgreens has been growing their telehealth workforce because they are seeing so much demand for these virtual services.
Telehealth allows mental health professionals to provide services in areas that otherwise would not have access to their care and resources.
Improve Access For Many
As mentioned above, essentially anyone and everyone with an internet connection can access telehealth treatment. This is a great option for patients who are home-bound, have difficulty traveling or lack transportation, have disabilities, or who live in rural areas.
In 2016, over 81 percent of households in the US had access to the Internet and this number has only grown since then. The accessibility of the internet means more people now have access to receiving telehealth services.
Since telehealth is virtual and patients can “meet” with their mental health professional from wherever they are, this also reduces the need to take time off of work or set up childcare services, which prevent many people from seeking treatment in the first place.
A Comfortable Setting for Patients to Receive Treatment
Some patients avoid getting treatment due to the fear of being recognized when going to appointments or waiting in the waiting room, or have issues with transportation, scheduling, and other concerns. This can be embarrassing and stressful and can cause anxiety as well, only exacerbating the existing mental illness.
Fortunately, with telehealth this can all be avoided. Patients who use telehealth can be treated from the comfort of their own homes and can enjoy flexible hours that are even outside of typical working hours or on the weekends.
The comfort and privacy that telehealth provides patients makes them much more willing to seek out treatment.
Improve the Landscape of Addiction Treatment
Addiction and substance abuse are becoming serious epidemics and as they worsen, the push for better treatment grows stronger. These issues are particularly prevalent in rural and low income areas, which at no coincidence, also usually do not have access to mental health treatment.
In Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, all areas heavily impacted by the opioid epidemic, the government put 1.4 million dollars in grants towards telemedicine programs. The project is being seen as an effort to target opioid abuse and provide access to mental health resources for those who are in dire need.
Ease of Communication and Monitoring
Telehealth is a model that enables all communication and monitoring to take place via technology. This makes it easy and convenient for mental health professionals to communicate, monitor, and follow-up with their patients in real-time.
Mental health professionals can send patients appointment reminders, coping techniques, mental health resources and information, and can easily help them learn more about mental illness and how to find other care providers. This can all be done at the touch of a button.
Telehealth also allows the symptoms of patients to be monitored through remote patient sensors and telemedicine apps.
The virtual landscape of telemedicine makes it quick and convenient to follow-up with patients and provide treatment, reducing delays in care, which can be a barrier when it comes to in-person services.
Disrupt the Healthcare Industry
For mental health professionals wanting to increase their patient base, be in high demand, and continue providing services regardless of unpredictable events, such as COVID-19, telehealth is a game-changer.
This model of providing mental health treatment disrupts the current healthcare space and brings about much needed innovation and accessibility. With the continued growth and expansion of telehealth, we can expect to see major changes in the mental health field over the next several years.
Be a Leader in Psychology with Telepractice Certification
Those wanting to establish themselves as leaders in their field will consider incorporating telehealth in order to help usher in a new way of looking at mental health treatment and create an upgraded standard in healthcare.
Want to learn more about best practices for integrating telehealth?
Learn More About Telepractice Certification for Mental Health Professionals