Updated: Jul 24
As of 2017, the National Institute of Mental Health notes that approximately one-in-five adults within the United States has some form of mental illness. Regardless of the prevalence of mental illness within the population, there are still a plethora of factors preventing individuals from seeking treatment.
According to this study, one such barrier is stigma; within an appearance-driven society many individuals are concerned how others will perceive them for seeking out treatment. This barrier is only amplified when it comes to cultural barriers -- such as the model minority myth -- that continue to persist. Beyond cultural background, according to this study, socio-demographic and educational backgrounds can influence whether individuals will consider therapy.
Even for those interested in treatment, in-person therapy might not always be a realistic option. For college students already juggling classes, extracurriculars, a job, and social life, it only adds an extra task for an already busy schedule. These responsibilities are only amplified for those in the workforce and for those responsible for taking care of their family. Thus, other barriers such as cost, time, quality of services, and transportation continue to remain.
What makes teletherapy an attractive option is that it is potentially able to eliminate some of these barriers.
According to this source, evidence suggests that teletherapy can serve as an effective tool in connecting individuals to adequate mental health services thereby bridging the gap between underserved populations and a lack of mental health care. Especially with the lack of cultural-competency within mental health services, teletherapy can potentially serve as an alternative mechanism to deliver culturally-competent services to marginalized and intersectional communities who are unable to access these services within their communities.
This method of treatment delivery is not new. Although with the current COVID-19 situation, more health care services have transitioned to an online format, many physicians have already been offering telemedicine services. One study from 2014 notes how telemedicine has served as a method of delivering specialty care to rural populations unable to have access to specialized medical services.
While it’s understandable to be skeptical regarding the efficacy of online-delivered mental health services, research has shown that these services are not only potentially effective in application, but suggest that they can be effective in tackling these aforementioned hurdles that many individuals face in receiving treatment.
A recent study conducted at Dartmouth investigated the use of text-messaging in the mental health care of patients suffering from depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. It was found that individuals who within the experimental group, (group that received the text messages), had improved outcomes compared to the control group. Thus, this finding supports the idea that text-messaging can serve as an efficient method of provide treatment for individuals who are unable to physically receive care.
The integration of technology within mental health care is not a new area of research. Additional studies have been investigating the use of mindfulness modules and other interventions utilized to supplement mental health care and provide these services when individuals are unable to seek them in-person.
These findings are promising for determining the effectiveness of teletherapy services. Not only do studies suggest that these methods of treatment can potentially be helpful in the management of mental illness, however they may be able to help knock down barriers that many individuals face in treatment. Especially as many of us find our technological devices engrained within our daily lives, it's another mark of an interesting trend in which we're seeing how technology can potentially be utilized to increase accessibility and provide effective, remote mental health care.