Bringing Mental Health Services to Underserved Populations with Teletherapy

Bringing Mental Health Services to Underserved Populations with Teletherapy

Bringing Mental Health Services to Underserved Populations with Teletherapy

To better reach underserved populations, mental health care providers need to increase accessibility, decrease costs, and eliminate barriers to entry for groups facing difficulties in obtaining mental health services. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five American adults experience a mental illness. Unfortunately, these numbers can be even higher for certain groups that also tend to struggle more with getting the help they need for economic, cultural, social, or logistical reasons. These factors, combined with a mental health care provider shortage, can make it prohibitively difficult for some individuals to seek help.

One way providers can effectively reach more underserved populations without incurring a high level of extra costs is by offering teletherapy. Studies have shown video therapy sessions to be just as effective as traditional, in-person therapy for treating most mental health conditions. Providing teletherapy can be significantly less expensive for providers by removing overhead costs, and can also improve attendance rates and reduce no-shows and cancellations. It is also more anonymous for clients and removes geographic restrictions, which can make it easier on clients with limited transportation, and gives clients more options when choosing a provider.

In addition to being convenient and effective, teletherapy can also be reimbursable, making it easier for clients to afford mental health services. Medicare’s telehealth benefit now covers certain forms of psychotherapy services. Telehealth is also covered by Medicaid in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Furthermore, 32 states and DC have some sort of private payer policy in place for coverage of telehealth as well.

Teletherapy can solve logistical issues and remove barriers for many different groups that can have limited access to care including:

  • Children and Adolescents: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13-20% of American children experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Of those, only 20% receive treatment. Cost can often play a role in preventing young people from receiving the care they need. Teletherapy can help make mental health care more accessible to children and adolescents, and may be more ideal for teens comfortable with technology that may desire a higher degree of anonymity in care. Additionally, teletherapy can eliminate the need to miss school to attend in-person appointments, providing less disruption to a client’s daily routine.
  • Older Adults: The American Association of Geriatric Psychology estimates that 20% of older adults experience some type of mental health concern. These conditions often co-occur with other physical health issues and can go undiagnosed. Older adults can struggle with the cost of mental health care, and may have difficulty travelling to appointments due to physical health concerns or lack of transportation. Teletherapy can address these struggles by allowing people to see their therapist remotely. Furthermore, Medicare’s telehealth benefit includes psychotherapy codes, making teletherapy more affordable for older adults.
  • Minority Groups: Minority populations have the same level of risk for mental health disorders, but access treatment at much lower rates. Mental health care is often less accessible to minority groups, and people seeking care often anticipate lower quality or experience language or cultural barriers when receiving treatment. By reducing geographic barriers, teletherapy can increase options for people when choosing a provider and help them find someone who is a good fit.
  • Rural Residents: According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, 60% of rural Americans live in a mental health provider shortage area. Combined with lower incomes, high levels of stigma, and a potential lack of anonymity in a smaller community, seeking care can be difficult. Teletherapy allows rural residents to access mental health services more privately with less travel.

We can begin to address the mental health care provider shortage by expanding the utilization and reach of current providers to underserved populations in need of services. Teletherapy is one way to do this, and it can be effective for treating many conditions. To learn more, download our tip sheet.