Mental health demands in 2021 are vast and varied. The landscape has quickly evolved over the past year in particular, as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has increased the number of those seeking support in emergency rooms, at clinicians’ offices, and even at primary care appointments.
How can we meet this demand and scale to large, diverse populations? We can only accomplish it with out-of-the-box thinking that leads to new and modern solutions.
Examining the Growing Need for Mental Health Services
While the growing number of those with mental health needs was a concern before the pandemic, the number of Americans who have slid further on the continuum has sharply escalated in the past year. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of emergency department visits for mental health conditions, suicide attempts, and overdoses was higher from mid-March through October 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, which uses a modified PHQ-2 and GAD-2 scoring system, 35% to 40% of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder for most of the months starting late April 2020 – compared to 11% in 2019. While this data shows that somewhere between one-third and one-half of all Americans are struggling with their mental health, many others have not self-identified as having symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders. Scores are feeling things like grief and malaise, without understanding or recognizing that it is their mental health being affected.
Further, there are the ongoing needs of people living with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, and other challenges whose diagnoses come with higher rates of mental health disorders. Often, these patients are being seen by primary care physicians, specialists, and others on a treatment team who monitor their condition but may not have the tools needed to treat their mental health issues — which may mean further complications for their physical condition.
We must meet members where they are on the continuum of care to prevent mental health needs from progressing and disrupt the cycle of complicating comorbidities.
Reassessing the Traditional Mental Healthcare Model
With the uptick in patients needing mental healthcare, we must take a look at the current lay of the land. There are a host of factors that indicate that the traditional mental healthcare model of in-person therapy and psychiatry is simply not working for this new state of affairs.
First, there is a lamentable lack of mental healthcare providers. The U.S. does not have enough trained professionals to meet the current mental health needs of the population in its current appointment-based format. Providers who offer in-person appointments are often booked out for months at a time, which can hinder the urgent and necessary care for those in acute or life-threatening situations. And insurance coverage varies drastically, leaving many unsure of what they can afford and therefore less likely to pursue help.
Next, there are many accessibility issues for those who desperately need mental healthcare for themselves or their dependents. A 2018 survey co-sponsored by the National Council for Behavioral Health reported that 42% of respondents cited cost and poor insurance coverage as key barriers to accessing mental healthcare. And more than half of U.S. counties don’t have even one psychiatrist, meaning that seeking even the most minimal support is a tremendous undertaking.
Finally, even with access to in-person mental healthcare, scheduling problems may arise due to work and family obligations. Many people simply can’t afford to take time off work, obtain additional childcare, or take their dependents out of school for in-person mental health appointments.
Unprecedented situations like the global pandemic and the current mental health crisis call for unprecedented solutions.
Meeting Patients Across the Continuum of Care
We must take several actions to ensure more widespread access to the mental healthcare services so many need. Telehealth has come a long way in recent years, but it doesn’t necessarily allow for nuance in the ways we currently need. For instance, meeting people where they are means allowing for non-traditional scheduling of services. By providing an asynchronous format, digital support can be obtained at any hour of the day or night, regardless of the provider’s schedule.
Internet cognitive behavioral therapy (iCBT) is changing the game when it comes to digital mental health support. Patients need tangible takeaways in real-time, not having to wait until the next time they’re able to see their therapist. Further, asynchronous delivery of support allows for those in changing life circumstances — such as college-bound young people or professionals who travel for work — to still obtain the support they need.
And for those being treated for other conditions, digital mental health services allow for clinical assessments and progress reports to be shared with other healthcare providers through HIPAA-secure protocols. This can help give a more holistic perspective on the patient’s overall health and wellbeing and inform further treatment recommendations. In addition, asynchronous delivery of support requires fewer clinician resources, thus enabling them to treat more patients in a shorter amount while reducing costs.
SilverCloud is the leading provider of evidence-based behavioral and mental health solutions, delivered digitally and at scale. Our platform provides collaborative, integrated support for people with existing mental health needs as well as other chronic conditions. SilverCloud’s easy-to-use technology has been shown to improve access and outcomes and even reduce overall healthcare costs for both companies and their members.
To read more about how SilverCloud is reshaping the mental health landscape and view user statistics, download our whitepaper "Meet Members With Scalable Mental Healthcare That Works, Wherever They Are On Their Health Journeys".