A new era in mental health care delivery

The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally altered relationships and once-reliable life, work, school and home routines. More than ever, Americans have turned to virtual mental health programs during this time.

Before the pandemic, nearly one in five U.S. adults (47 million) reported having any mental illness. One in 10 adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder. However, by July 2020, several months into the pandemic lockdown, a Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll found that 41% of U.S. adults had reported symptoms.

With mental health care already being critical, the COVID-19 pandemic saw a surge in demand for services and pushed the need for optimal care, including effective digital solutions and virtual options for mental health care delivery into sharp focus.

Consumers have embraced virtual mental health care

A survey commissioned by one of the largest telehealth providers showed the acceptance of virtual and digital delivery for mental health care was high. 94% of respondents who sought mental health support through virtual visits rated their experience as good or very good/excellent. These percentages were nearly identical to results from respondents who received in-person visits.

Mental Health Support Seekers give nearly identical high ratings to their virtual and in-person care experience

Virtual visits with a mental health professional 76% Excellent 18% Good

In-person visits with a mental health professional 77% Excellent 17% Good

Not only is virtual mental health support a positive and welcome experience for most, it has also been shown to be effective. More than 90% of respondents reported some improvement or significant improvement/ breakthrough as a result of their virtual mental health visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effect of virtual mental health visits during the pandemic

Mental health service outcomes among those with concern(s)

39.5% Significant Improvement           52.5% Some Improvement

Members aren’t sure where to start and struggle with self-diagnosis

Mental health needs fluctuate in type and magnitude over time and the need for treatment is episodic. For people who need help, finding the right type of care can be an enormous challenge. Most treatment options require self-diagnosis, which is both critical to get right and difficult for the average consumer without professional intervention. For example, a person with trouble sleeping might self-diagnose insomnia, but may have underlying depression or anxiety, requiring a different treatment and level of care. These care complexities can be hard to recognize.

Younger generations are breaking barriers

Several factors are pushing us past barriers to seeking mental health care in general, and specifically digital and virtual mental health care. Workforce demographics are a major factor. Millennials have less economic stability than previous generations and were struggling with mental health at a previously unimagined scope even before the pandemic. Luckily, they are willing to engage. Millennials and Generation Z exhibit high levels of acceptance of mental health care, and they expect their employer-provided health insurance will help them address their mental health needs.

Virtual-digital mental health options help reduce stigma

Younger workers aren’t alone in seeking help online. Workers of all ages, forced to work at home, have become more familiar with technology out of necessity, and are more willing to use it for a wide array of tasks. There has been growth in digital mental health access across every age group and every gender, in every sort of industry. A big piece of it is that it provides a stigma-free alternative to care. Reluctance to engage with employer-provided mental health care benefits has historically contributed to underutilization of available services, but the pandemic appears to have shifted this somewhat.

Tech and behavioral science drive engagement

Improvements in digital mental health tools and apps are also driving higher usage and acceptance rates. Artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics enable apps to continually personalize care as the user provides more information. Most digital options are accessible from any smartphone or computer with an internet connection. That immediacy is important. Digital mental health care enables patients to address problems as they are happening, and communicate quickly with an app or provider when an issue comes up. They don’t need to wait for a scheduled office visit.

The maze of virtual mental health options can cause confusion

A survey showed a variety of new options can make it difficult for care seekers to find the right care at the right time, or even to know where to begin. Most respondents agreed. Nearly 70% of respondents reported that using multiple websites/mobile apps/virtual care platforms would be difficult or overwhelming.

People seeking help want a consolidated experience

Survey respondents believe a unified approach to digital and virtual care is the best approach for self-management of mental and physical health. Having the right care at the right time and continuing that care has helped mental health care seekers weather the pandemic. Among those with mental health concerns who sought support, 78% prefer a single app for self-management of physical and mental health.

The time is now for comprehensive mental health care

Fortunately, comprehensive solutions have evolved that enable mental health seekers to get the right care at the right time, virtually or digitally. When a comprehensive approach is used, it includes the virtual primary care team, which makes it possible to utilize mental health care to address other underlying issues.

Not just a moment, it’s a breakthrough

People have turned to virtual and digital mental health care more than ever before to get through the pandemic. Is this the new normal for mental health care delivery, or is it a temporary by-product of closed offices and stay-at-home orders? There is evidence to suggest that virtual and digital mental health care delivery is not merely having a moment. The need for care won’t disappear with the end of the pandemic. Many practitioners, as well as patients, have gotten more comfortable with online and virtual mental health care, and say they will continue to provide it in the future. Pandemic-driven digital mental health care access has given us an opportunity to have a new perspective on seeing care. People now realize that it’s okay to seek care or to acknowledge they need help.

To learn more about solutions, please contact
Bill Latz
[email protected]

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