Telehealth is a great model for mental health nurses to adopt as it does not require a physical examination. Health professionals can administer it virtually because it is flexible for both parties. This healthcare method has recently gained popularity, especially among younger adults who prefer convenience over everything else. The best part of this system is that anyone can access it, provided they have a smartphone or computer. Mental health nurses now use this method to reach a wider range of patients. It benefits not only them but the people they care for. Here are six major benefits of telehealth to the mental health field.
Mitigates the shortage of mental health professionals
There are not enough mental health professionals for the millions of patients who need attention. The problem is worsened by newer mental illnesses cropping up daily. More people need to study these new illnesses, and when they do, the job is too burdensome. Regardless of how much the government tries to reduce the doctor-patient ratio, the figures keep increasing.
With telehealth, this problem is reduced to the bare minimum. It is a wonderful option because it doesn’t require much from the patient nor the medical professional. A stable internet connection and a laptop, computer, or tablet will do the trick. The simplicity of this method allows mental health nurses and other professionals to access their patients regardless of location.
Thankfully, the internet has advanced so much that even people in rural locations can experience the same speed as those in urban cities. Therefore, the people in those seemingly disadvantaged communities can now be carried along with their counterparts in the city because everyone should have access to quality healthcare. With accelerated courses in mental health, more professionals can qualify within a shorter period and join the workforce to mitigate shortages.
Improve access for many
As mentioned earlier, the number one advantage of telehealth over conventional means is that anyone with an internet connection can access treatment. This all-inclusive treatment is perfect for people with disabilities or those who do not have transport to visit the hospital. Studies show that in 2016, over 81% of households in the US had access to the internet, and since then, it has continued to expand. This means that the industry received patients from regions across the board, especially those with a stable internet connection.
Since telehealth is virtual and patients can meet their mental health professionals from anywhere in the world, it reduces the need to take time off work to attend to medical needs. Most workers with tight schedules often forfeit medical consultations at the hospital because they cannot afford to be away from work for too long. Today, they can combine both seamlessly and not sacrifice one for the other.
Comfortable for patients to receive treatment
Some patients would rather google their symptoms and attempt treating themselves at home than go to a hospital. They fear they will be recognized in hospital waiting rooms, especially when they are experiencing an embarrassing illness. Others have issues with the consultation schedule as it may clash with their daily activities. Even if it doesn’t, these regular visits to the hospital are stressful and cause anxiety. Fortunately, telehealth eradicates these problems. Patients who use it are treated from their homes anytime, especially on weekends when they are available. The comfort and privacy this treatment offers is second to none.
Improves the landscape of addiction treatment
Mental health nurses have had to battle addiction and substance abuse from their patients. Often the case gets worse by the day regardless of how hard they try to get them out of it. It is worse in low-income and rural areas where patients do not have access to quality mental health treatment. The occasional treatment they get do receive does not cater to their entire needs.
In states like Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, heavily impacted by opioid use, the government invested millions of dollars in grants to boost telemedicine programs. The project aims to boost the industry’s efforts to reach abusers and provide access to mental health resources for those in dire need.
Ease of communication and monitoring
Technology is the driving force behind telehealth. It ensures that communication and monitoring are seamless. Therefore, mental health professionals can communicate with their patients and monitor them in real-time. Not only is this convenient for the professionals, but patients also love the ease with which they can speak to these experts about their health needs.
Mental health nurses can send patients’ coping techniques, mental health resources, appointment reminders, and other resources that can help them learn more about mental illness and how to get help. All these are available at the touch of a button. Patient symptoms can also be monitored through remote patient sensors and telemedicine apps. The virtual environment of telehealth makes it seamless for professionals to follow up with patients and provide treatment while reducing the delays inherent in conventional treatment methods.
Demand is high
Mental health professionals are in high demand, and to remain in the business of providing their services to all who need them, they must think outside the box. One way to do that is to remain relevant against all odds. The 2020 lockdown was an eye-opener for many who thought patients must be physically present to access medical care. The year was a turning point for telehealth, and all medical professionals had to adjust to the reality. A flexible system was all the world needed to cope during the period, and with determination, we achieved it. Since then, the industry has expanded beyond expectations, and we expect to see more changes in the future.
Barriers to accessing quality mental health treatment
Mental issues are more common than we realize, perhaps because we are more reluctant to talk about them as other illnesses. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, one in five American adults has experienced a mental health issue, and one in 20 Americans live with a mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia, etc.
These illnesses are challenging to handle alone; therefore, patients need quality mental care that assists them. When mental health issues go untreated, they can affect a person’s ability to attain their greatest potential. Some factors stand in the way of accessing this care, and that is what this section tackles. When policymakers are more concerned about citizens accessing quality mental healthcare, they can dismantle these barriers. Here are three of the common barriers we face.
Lack of mental health care professionals and services
One of the major barriers to mental health treatment is the low supply of trained professionals in the field. Many countries across the world suffer shortages of psychiatric doctors, nurses, and other professionals. As the population increases, there’s hardly a corresponding increase in mental health professionals. The worst affected by this shortage are those in rural areas. While they may have other professionals to attend to their health needs, these experts are not trained to handle their mental needs.
Today, telehealth makes it easier for more people to access healthcare. For a nurse who wants to switch paths and become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, things just got better. This specialization requires advanced education to solve behavioral health challenges. With 48 credit hours and 750 clinical hours, one can complete this degree in less than three years. What’s even better is that it is an online course and does not disrupt your work schedule.
People of color are often disadvantaged when accessing quality mental healthcare. A survey shows that 23% of white adults are more likely to seek and receive mental health treatment, unlike their black counterparts, where only 16% struggle to seek treatment. These barriers may also stem from a lack of diverse representation in the field, bias, and language barriers. With most of these professionals in the US being white, blacks and other people of color may be unwilling to confide in them. They may fear that whites cannot relate to their needs as much as they want them to. Therefore, they could be less likely to seek help if they think the medical professional cannot relate to their cultural difference and background.
The social stigma of mental health treatment
Despite the awareness of mental health, we still have people who find it a taboo word. They don’t talk about it, and anyone who does is considered abnormal. Often, the discrimination people receive when they talk about their mental health dissuades them from seeking help or acknowledging their illnesses.
Imagine talking to a friend about being depressed, and they dismiss your concerns to talk about something else. The act of silencing suggests that your mental health means nothing to them. The risk of discrimination in social, cultural, and professional circles is also a barrier to seeking treatment. People fear their families will treat them differently if they learn about their condition. Others would keep silent at work for fear of adverse treatment from their colleagues. Unfortunately, stigma has been around for too long and won’t disappear overnight. However, medical practitioners can do their best to change public perceptions of mental health illnesses to dismantle these barriers to treatment.
Mental health treatment can be expensive. When middle-class citizens consider the cost, they would rather channel their money into other profitable ventures. Even with insurance or financial assistance, mental healthcare services are costly. Deductibles increase when a diagnosis requires regular therapy or intensive treatment programs. Many individuals begin treatment, but the cost makes them stop halfway. Other times, they are inconsistent with the treatment from start to finish.
An inconsistent treatment is worthless as the patient rarely heals from the illness. For instance, an average 60-minute mental health therapy session costs between $100 to $200, depending on the state in the US. The more severe the condition is, the higher the cost. For instance, a patient receiving treatment for depression may spend up to $10,000 annually on treatment.
Lack of mental health awareness
As enlightened as the world seems, mental health education and awareness are not receiving the publicity they deserve. Often, people live with illness for years without knowing the tell-tale signs and the importance of treatment. They overlook the signs until it degenerates to the point of no return. This condition is unlike a physical injury, where you seek help immediately because the symptoms are obvious. Mental illnesses are harder to recognize because the symptoms are subtle and often dismissed as mood swings, laziness, overreacting personality, or even zodiac signs. Even when mental health degenerates, the signs may not be obvious to people around you because you don’t communicate those feelings to them. Ultimately, you need to recognize when something isn’t right.
Mental health barriers are disheartening, but some can be tackled. Practitioners must understand how these issues apply to the community and the individuals they serve. Understanding what prevents healthcare access helps the government formulate better policies and programs to bridge the gap.
While telehealth may not solve all these challenges, it is crucial in the 21st century. Mental health nurses can now attend to their patients from the comfort of their homes without obstruction. They can also reach a wider audience in rural communities. Decades ago, people could go years without accessing quality mental health care due to a workforce shortage. Today, it no longer applies to contemporary healthcare, as telehealth makes adequate use of the few professionals available and distributes them evenly. The healthcare industry generally owes a lot to technology, and there are still lots of untapped areas waiting to be explored.