The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on mental health across United States. Yet the crisis has also catalyzed a sea change in our collective understanding of mental health issues, breaking through decades of stigma and proving the relationship between psychological and physical health. A recent survey underscores these pandemic effects while clearly demonstrating that US adults want ongoing access to virtual mental health care.
The national survey, conducted online in May 2021, was commissioned by connected healthcare technology pioneer DrFirst. Demographic percentages for age, gender, region, and ethnicity were mirrored across 1,004 respondents aged 18 and above. More than two-thirds of respondents stated that the isolation and stress of the pandemic worsened their mental health; 17% said they accessed mental health services for the first time during the crisis. While three out of four respondents expect their mental health to improve as the pandemic declines, 84% said they want access to virtual services for mental health issues.
Nearly half said these services made them feel safer by limiting the risk of COVID-19 exposure. But respondents also saw a range of additional benefits from virtual mental health care. These include: eliminating travel for in-office visits (49%); feeling more comfortable discussing personal issues at home (46%); wearing pajamas during appointments (32%); scheduling appointments during work hours (24%); and not having to worry about finding childcare (13%).
Those benefits can apply to all forms of telemedicine. However, virtual care removes significant barriers associated with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Individuals living with mental health conditions frequently struggle with completing daily tasks, performing adequate self-care, and finding the motivation to leave the house or even get out of bed in the morning. Many might never receive mental health services without access to telemedicine.
A 2016 research review of 22 studies published between 2005 and 2015 showed that remote counseling and therapy were as effective as in-person mental health services. The review also demonstrated that telemental health care was more efficient and cost-effective. It can also increase access to mental health services in rural and underserved communities. Yet before the pandemic, less than 1% of mental health visits were conducted virtually. The US has yet to see the full results of the mental health revolution spurred by the pandemic. There’s no doubt that secure, HIPAA-compliant telehealth solutions will be a major player in addressing widespread mental health concerns.