According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 43.8 million U.S. adults experience mental illness at any point during a given year. That’s without counting teens and children, who often go undiagnosed; the estimate of children and teens suffering from mental health disorders ranges from 15% to 25%. Despite how common psychiatric issues are in America today, only 41% of adults with a mental health condition received any sort of treatment in 2015. Clearly, there are not enough people who are being given a proper mental health assessment or access to appropriate mental health care.
However, a new player on the healthcare scene may be able to help change this: telepsychiatry. While many people feel that proper psychological testing and treatment can be done in person, researchers in over 120 studies have found that telepsychiatry was consistently associated with high satisfaction for both patients and practitioners. This was found to be especially true in rural areas, where access to behavioral health care and adequate mental health assessment was otherwise lacking. The quality of treatment and the conclusions of mental health assessments were similar across in-person psychiatry and telepsychiatry as well. In randomized controlled trials of assessments, diagnoses and treatment plans were comparable 96% of the time between face-to-face and online behavioral health care assessments.
Additionally, for those with specific types of behavioral disorders, staying in treatment can be difficult due to symptoms making it complicated to go to a physical office for psychiatric treatment. A study of over 11,000 children and teens accessing mental health services for the first time showed that 45% dropped out of treatment after the first month, with only 22% still being in treatment after six months. Telepsychiatry has the potential to be incredibly useful in these circumstances, as patients do not need to be at a particular geographic location to access treatment. As sometimes mental health symptoms make going out difficult or impossible, as in the cases of severe depression or anxiety disorders, being able to access treatment without leaving home could make the difference between accessing care or going untreated for countless individuals.
For the countless people suffering from untreated mental illness, telepsychiatry could be a means to accessing mental health assessment and care. This could be an incredibly useful tool for reducing the U.S.’s alarming mental health rate, and will absolutely be a life-changing healthcare practice for millions.