Over the past decade, the popularity of teletherapy—often referred to as online therapy or remote therapy—has been on the rise due to its potential to support a struggling mental health care system. This innovative approach to mental health care allows clients and therapists to interact via phone, video conferencing, or even text messaging. As advancements in technology coincide with the rising awareness and prevalence of mental health issues, teletherapy is heralding a new era in accessible mental health support for millions around the world. This model fills a crucial void in the mental health landscape, extending help to those who might otherwise struggle to access traditional in person therapy. The facilitation of mental health services from the comfort of one’s home aids in the dismantling of traditional barriers to care.
In this blog post, we delve into the transformative power of teletherapy, exploring its impact on mental health, and how it’s reshaping the accessibility of mental health services across the globe.
The Rising Demand for Mental Health Services: U.S. and Beyond
Mental health is a critical issue in the United States, with a significant portion of the population being affected by various mental health disorders. Each year, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness, while serious mental illness affects 1 in 20 adults. The impact of mental health disorders is also prevalent among the younger population, as 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder annually. Moreover, the onset of mental illness often occurs early in life, with 50% of all lifetime cases beginning by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Alarmingly, suicide has become the second leading cause of death among individuals aged 10-14, further emphasizing the need for increased awareness, support, and intervention to address mental health concerns in the United States.
According to a 2022 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), almost one billion people globally, including 14% of teenagers, were living with some form of mental disorder. More than one death in every 100 was caused by suicide, with 58% of suicides happening before the age of 50. The longevity of individuals with severe mental diseases was shown to be reduced by ten to twenty years, primarily due to physical ailments that could have been avoided. The research names bullying and childhood sexual abuse as significant contributors to depression. The report also identifies wars, climatic crises, public health emergencies, social and economic inequality, and public health crises as major structural dangers to mental health. Additionally, the prevalence of depression and anxiety increased by more than 25% in just the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the report, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus touched on the importance of meeting the demand for our current mental health needs, stating, “Everyone’s life touches someone with a mental health condition. Good mental health translates to good physical health, and this new report makes a compelling case for change. The inextricable links between mental health and public health, human rights, and socioeconomic development mean that transforming policy and practice in mental health can deliver real, substantive benefits for individuals, communities, and countries everywhere. Investment into mental health is an investment into a better life and future for all.”
Barriers to Accessing Mental Health Care
There are several barriers to accessing mental health care, each of which contributes to the growing treatment gap in this essential aspect of healthcare.
- Cost: For many people, the high price of mental health services is a major barrier. The cost of treatment sessions, mental assessments, and drugs might be exorbitant for people in need without insurance coverage. High deductibles, co-payments, or limited coverage for mental health services may make therapy unaffordable even for people with insurance. As a result, many people are unable to get the care they need, which negatively impacts their general well-being.
- Stigma: People frequently refrain from getting help due to unfavorable cultural perceptions and false beliefs about mental health concerns. When seeking therapy or other mental health services, people may be discouraged by the thought of being stigmatized or criticized by friends, family, or coworkers. This stigma, which is based on a lack of knowledge and understanding, makes people who are dealing with mental health issues feel isolated and makes it difficult for them to get the help they require.
- Lack of accessibility: There is a shortage of mental health experts in many places, particularly in rural or underprivileged populations. Long wait times for appointments, insufficient support systems, and a lack of options for specialist care can all result from this scarcity. In fact, the most recent data indicates that the average wait time for mental health and substance abuse services in the United States is 48 days. This waiting period could potentially be detrimental to the patient. Furthermore, the quantity of skilled clinicians is frequently insufficient to meet the demand for mental health care, leaving many individuals without access to neccessary services.
- Geographical limitations: Accessing mental health care may be severely hindered by physical distance. People who live in remote areas may need to travel considerable distances to find the closest mental health professional, or they might only have access to a small number of local providers who might not be qualified to handle their specific needs. These geographical restrictions are made even more difficult by transportation problems, such as a lack of access to a dependable automobile or public transportation.
These barriers to accessing mental health care have led to a significant treatment gap, where many individuals struggle to find the appropriate resources and support to address their mental health needs. This gap not only impacts the well-being of those affected but also puts a strain on families, communities, and healthcare systems.
Teletherapy: A Solution to Bridge the Gap
A promising approach to removing these obstacles and enhancing access to mental health care is teletherapy. The necessity for physical presence is no longer necessary for patients to obtain therapy sessions from qualified specialists thanks to the development of video conferencing and encrypted messaging services. According to a systematic review of videoconferencing psychotherapy and depression, teletherapy is helpful for treating a range of mental health illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use disorders.
Improving Access to Care Through Teletherapy
Overcoming geographical barriers
Teletherapy offers a viable solution for accessing mental health care for individuals living in rural or remote areas. By connecting patients with therapists who may be located far away, teletherapy helps reduce the impact of geographical barriers on access to care.
The stigma associated with mental health problems may discourage people from getting assistance. Teletherapy enables patients to undergo therapy from the comfort of their own homes in a more private and less intimidating environment. This increased privacy can help reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health care and encourage more individuals to seek help.
Enhancing convenience and flexibility
Teletherapy offers patients the flexibility to schedule appointments at times that are convenient for them without the need to travel or take time off work. This can be especially beneficial for those with limited mobility or transportation options and individuals with busy schedules. The convenience of teletherapy can lead to increased engagement and treatment adherence, ultimately improving mental health outcomes.
Addressing cost barriers
Teletherapy has the potential to reduce costs associated with mental health care. By eliminating the need for physical office space and travel, teletherapy can be more cost-effective for both patients and providers. Additionally, some insurance companies now cover teletherapy services, further reducing the financial burden on patients.
Enhancing care for specific populations
Certain populations, such as veterans and active-duty military personnel, may face unique challenges when accessing mental health care. Teletherapy can provide a solution by connecting these individuals with therapists who specialize in treating their specific needs, regardless of location. The National Center for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that teletherapy can be an effective method in the treatment of PTSD care. And studies show that telehealth helps to increase access to care and remove barriers to treatment.
The Future of Teletherapy
As technology continues to advance and teletherapy becomes more widely accepted, we can expect to see further growth in its use and effectiveness. Innovations such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and machine learning have the potential to enhance teletherapy and make it an even more accessible and effective tool for addressing mental health care needs.
In conclusion, teletherapy has emerged as a powerful solution to improve access to mental health care, overcoming barriers such as geographical limitations, stigma, and cost. By leveraging technology to connect patients with therapists, teletherapy is revolutionizing the way mental health care is delivered and helping millions of individuals worldwide receive the support they need. For more insight into the benefits of teletherapy, check out our blog, “Benefits of Using Telehealth in Schools to Address the Adolescent Mental Health Crisis.” For those who are new to telehealth, you can utilize our helpful factsheet (available in multiple languages), Virtual Care Security Q&A, or even our Specialty Telehealth Provider Registry to find teletherapy providers near you.