Telehealth helps mental health patients receive the care they need. Congress must protect this vital access.
In May, we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month. With one in five Americans living with a mental health condition, accessible treatment and support remains more essential than ever. Through telehealth services, more patients can see their doctors and receive the diagnoses, treatment, and counseling they need as they navigate living with a mental health condition. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), virtual mental health services are proven to generate positive outcomes, including treatment engagement, care retention, and patient satisfaction, leading to improved long-term health outcomes.
To start, telehealth increases access to crucial services, allowing patients to attend appointments with specialists that they may not have been able to reach otherwise due to travel, time, cost, or other restraints. For patients that live in rural areas with fewer mental health specialists, telehealth can help connect patients with caregivers hundreds or even thousands of miles away. In fact, in rural or remote areas, children are more likely to receive a diagnosis of autism six months later than children who live in urban areas. Telehealth can help provide access to specialized services for patients, including mental health services that can accelerate Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis and treatment for those in rural areas.
This increased access is extremely popular with patients. One telehealth user from New York says, “My daughter, who is thirteen, developed social anxiety during the pandemic and she meets with her counselor through telehealth. I am a single parent working 40+ hours a week without reliable transportation options. Telehealth allows my daughter to get the quality and consistent care she needs to thrive, which I’ve previously struggled to provide. Telehealth has helped my daughter immensely. Instead of suffering, she gets the treatment she needs and even made the honor roll!”
Patients and providers also attribute telehealth for helping reduce the stigma around behavioral health care. One provider stated, “Being able to provide telehealth services over the past three years has been incredibly valuable to the clients I work with. This is evidenced by their ability to better implement therapeutic strategies in real time, in their home environments, or environments they are familiar with. Being surrounded by their belonging, in their space, has allowed for continued anxiety reduction.” In fact, SAMHSA found that through telehealth use, patients with mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders can obtain care in a more anonymous manner with less fear of judgment than they would in a traditional doctor’s office visit.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that telehealth provides essential access to mental health care, consistently praising telehealth for its ability to improve access and health outcomes for mental health care needs:
- U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID): Whether for rural communities, urban areas or tribes, telehealth has undoubtedly expanded access in underserved areas, improved care coordination and integration, and provided more privacy to patients to combat stigma.”
- U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD): “Telehealth, particularly for behavioral health services, has become an essential component of care.”
- U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY): “And then telehealth is something we’ve used from a mental health standpoint long before the pandemic. I think the pandemic has brought mental health, as well as other kinds of health care to the fore, in terms of the ability to try to use telehealth much more productively. I think we’re hopefully fast forwarded with the acceptance of, as Senator Cardin was just saying, the acceptance of telehealth.
- U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR): “The pandemic made clear that telehealth is a game-changer, particularly so Americans can get mental health care when they need it”
- U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD): “Individuals in rural areas may not have easy access to a mental health facility, making in-person visits difficult for those seeking care”…“Utilizing telemental health capabilities will allow South Dakotans in rural areas to receive quality care from the comfort of their homes. Not only does this save time and resources, it provides an important mental health service for our farmers and ranchers, who for years have suffered economically due to challenging weather, trade disputes and price disparities.”
- U.S. Representative Brad Schneider (D-IL-10): “Telemedicine has improved access for virtually every American, including those who live far from medical facilities, those who don’t have ready access to transportation, folks in need of mental health who can’t find a provider with an open appointment near them, or maybe are just too shy to go in public because of the perceived stigma.”
Telehealth is the most popular form of mental health treatment, and for good reason. Telehealth allows for a low-cost, convenient, and safe option to receive care. Congress must protect this essential care access now.
Learn more about how Congress can act now to safeguard access to telehealth HERE.