Telehealth During COVID

photo of a computer telehealth screen

By: Carrie Yeager, Ph.D.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges as well as opportunities regarding the provision of mental health services. Predating the current pandemic, many barriers to mental health care prevented or delayed an individual’s ability to seek assistance for various mental health problems. Distance, costs associated with travel, limited local availability of specialized mental health providers, and time away from work have been documented as significant barriers that have prevented individuals from receiving psychotherapy (Brown, 2017; Kazdin & Blasé, 2011). Perceived stigma is another barrier to seeking and receiving in-person evidence‐based treatment for PTSD (Greene‐Shortridge et al., 2007) and has been associated with premature dropout from treatment (Hoge et al., 2014). Other deterrents include lack of flexible hours, lack of childcare, limited mobility, and transportation limitations. Rural and underserved communities are especially vulnerable to these barriers (Zhai, 2020). These barriers are compounded by recent increases in various mental health challenges associated with COVID-19, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], and other trauma- and stress-related conditions (Sheridan et al., 2021).

Yet, opportunities exist. Telehealth has demonstrated to be a promising solution to many of these obstacles. To meet these increasing needs, mental health providers have had to transform how they provide services to ensure continuity of care. In the wake of COVID‐19, telehealth has quickly become a vital and safe mode of care delivery for mental health services. Through telehealth, VHTC providers have been able to address the increased demand for services while reducing traditional barriers to care. This has opened the door to many who previously would not have had access to services. Fortunately, this form of care is not new and has been well studied and shown to be an effective modality for treating PTSD and other disorders with good client and provider satisfaction (Gros et al., 2018; Morland et al., 2015; Reay et al., 2020).

Although telehealth is generally well-accepted by clients and clinicians, it is not without challenges. Limited access to the Internet or devices such as smartphones, computers or tablets, and lack of experience with technology can be barriers for some clients. Therefore, when it is safe to do so, a need to support both in-person and telehealth may be necessary. Despite these challenges, increased telehealth use precipitated by COVID could have long-term benefits for extending the reach and access to mental health services, especially for rural and underserved communities.

Tags: Newsletter April 2021Past Digital Newsletters