With the current ever-evolving COVID-19 situation, therapists everywhere are shifting their practices to remote televisits. Times are particularly stressful for essential workers who risk their lives every time they do their jobs; parents who now act as both caregivers and teachers; and children who miss their friends and school activities.
There are also many who were working through trauma and living in uncertainty before the pandemic. They must now navigate both preexisting and new stressors.
Virtual visits allow individuals to access mental health-related services from their homes to avoid being out in the community in these uncertain times. To access these services, all you need is a device that can support the web-based platform and access to reliable internet service.
Barriers to Telehealth
With the shift to online therapy sessions for both the Clinic at SaintA and our school-based mental health services, we quickly realized the gap between need and accessibility. Some individuals and families may not have reliable devices or other barriers.
- What if you don’t have access to a tablet, computer, or smartphone?
- Or you don’t have internet in your home?
- What if you rely on public locations, like libraries and restaurants, to connect to Wi-Fi?
- Or, what if you’re an essential worker and required to work different shifts or longer hours that are not conducive to a typical 9 to 5 appointment?
Sarah Nouri, Elaine Khoong, Courtney Lyles, and Leah Karliner (2020) recently shared their concerns on accessibility to telehealth services in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine’s Catalyst. “Without proactive efforts to ensure equity, current wide-scale implementation of telemedicine may increase disparities in health care access,” they stated.
Those with limited digital literacy or access, such as rural residents, racial/ethnic minorities, older adults, and those with low incomes, may not have the same ability to access care. Limited health literacy is another common barrier.
The Clinic at SaintA works to address inequities in access to remote mental healthcare and works with our clients to identify solutions to these issues.
Mental Health is an Equity Issue
Mental health struggles can affect anyone, despite race, class or background. However, some populations have additional barriers such as stigma, cultural beliefs, language barriers and lack of insurance that make receiving help even harder.
- African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than white individuals
- Native Americans experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population
- LGBT individuals are 3 times more likely to experience a mental health condition than those who identify as straight
When we consider historical trauma, which has created higher levels of poverty and stress and generated distrust of doctors, we can see why certain groups face such stark disparities. In Milwaukee County, African Americans are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 (Milwaukee County Health Department Dashboard).
Responding to the Need
SaintA wants to ensure that families who wish to access teletherapy services can do so, easily and efficiently. Video teletherapy visits have numerous benefits.
They allow for therapeutic sessions to occur at your convenience, without the need for arranging transportation, babysitters, or taking time off work. Additionally, video visits can occur in the convenience and comfort of your own home, without needing to take additional time out of busy schedules to travel to the clinic.
Closing the Digital Divide
The need for access to mental healthcare during the time of COVID-19 is great. Within the Clinic at SaintA, we have been creative in working to address accessibility issues. Our goal is to make therapeutic services available to all. You can request:
- Evening appointments
- Flexible scheduling to accommodate rotating work shifts
- Assistance downloading web-based therapy programs
SaintA has received a grant to provide telehealth mental health services to some Milwaukeeans hit hardest by COVID-19. The grant enables us to outfit up to 150 of our clients, who would not otherwise be able to access quality mental health care while Safer at Home, with devices and internet access for one year.
Interested in Teletherapy Services?
Nouri, S., Khoong, E.C., Lyles, C.R., and Karliner, L. (2020). Addressing equity in telemedicine for chronic disease management during the COVID-19 pandemic. New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst: Innovations in Care Delivery, 10, 1-13.
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