Today, it’s not uncommon to hear people talk about ‘The Sopranos’ as the best TV show ever. But for a while, back when the show premiered, it was “that show where the Mafia boss has a panic attack and starts seeing a psychiatrist.” See, at the time, that was quite a premise to kick off your first season. Mental issues and going to therapy were still something that most people kept quiet about in 1999.
But here’s the thing: Tony Soprano had more than social stigmas to worry about. For a mobster, the implications of someone from the family finding out about his weekly session with Dr. Melfi would be deadly. Whether that helped spread the message that people with more conventional jobs have nothing to be ashamed of or not, our society has largely grown past taboos around therapy since then.
87% of American adults now say there’s no shame in mental disorders. Along with the lively and open conversation around mental health, relevant technology solutions are becoming more widespread and more advanced.
Covid-19 helped drive this trend further. On the one hand, the global health crisis coupled with economic uncertainty shot up people’s anxiety and stress levels. On the other hand, social distancing, lockdowns, and quarantines, not only brought on more stress but also forced us to find substitutes for in-person meetings, whether make-shift or specialized solutions.
As a result, first-time downloads of leading mental wellness apps in the US reached 4 million soon after the beginning of the pandemic, representing a 29% increase from the months before. Interestingly, that increase came from people looking for alternatives to their weekly therapy sessions and those seeking expert help for the first time. Plenty of individuals needed, and many still do, a way to ease their pain during these challenging times. Virtual platforms were the right solution at the right time to answer the demand.
This demand isn’t going anywhere. What’s more, virtual platforms for patient engagement offer enough opportunities to better mental health services for those providing them and those seeking them alike. Here’s how and what.
Understandingly, some people still wish to keep the fact that they’re “seeing a shrink” a secret. Whether it’s because they live in a conservative society or for any other reason, the dread of someone spotting them going in or coming out of the clinic can make all the difference between seeking treatment or not. In such cases, the ability to see a therapist over a secure connection from a private place with no risk of exposure is a game-changer. Virtual platforms even offer a viable answer for those who prefer staying completely anonymous.
Mental health services usually come with a hefty price tag – literally – which many can’t afford. A third of patients consider the cost of therapy the most significant barrier standing in their way. Remote treatment can help lower overhead for therapists, which they could roll on to their patients. Studies showing that telemedicine platforms reduce costs by $1,500 per visit are a positive indication of just that.
If we factor in related expenses like travel, time loss, and other arrangements one might have to make for an in-person treatment, we can find a few more reasons for optimism. What’s more, patient engagement platforms can help clinicians offer more treatment types that are more affordable, such as shorter sessions, chat, and on-demand content.
Screening has become standard practice for mental health services. The process helps prioritize cases and alert experts on any emergencies requiring immediate attention. According to Mental Health America, “online screening is one “of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.”
Virtual platforms can streamline and personalize this sensitive process using interactive questionnaires instead of fixed fill-out forms. A quick conference call with an expert could even replace them entirely. To boot, seeing a candidate’s behavior, hearing their tone of voice, and sensing every little nuance can lead to more informed decisions.
Millions of people find solace and the strength to deal with personal challenges, from addiction to depression and many more, by sharing their struggles and hearing others talk about theirs. Some treatment programs rely on support groups as a significant tier in the healing process, alongside other forms of care. But support groups aren’t always available, especially in remote and uninhabited places. Further, some people prefer talking to people outside their immediate region. Either way, there’s clearly a gap for technology to fill.
While it can’t add to the number of therapists on staff, virtual platforms can obviously help make mental health services more available. Not only that, but this technology can also make it instantly available in urgent situations. Setting up a 24-7 helpline should be straightforward, and patients can choose the communication method that works best for them at any given moment. They might not always have their therapists on call, but during critical times, just having anyone to talk to, let alone a mental health expert, can be lifesaving
The idea of using technology for therapy may seem a bit cold and alienated at first. But video technology can now mediate a personal experience on par to face-to-face. More importantly, as we’ve seen, it can help improve mental health services and make our society healthier and happier. And in 2021, thanks in part to the Coronavirus, it’s also ubiquitous and familiar to most. Just like we learned to overcome our biases and notions around mental health, it’s time to let go of misconceptions about technology and its range of possible uses.
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