mental health professional, teletherapy, mental health care access

Mental Health Is Healthcare: What We Can Do About Access

Mental health is an essential piece of America’s healthcare system, and the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified an already growing mental health issue in the country. In December of 2020, 42% of people surveyed reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression. This was an 11% increase from previous years, with the largest population affected being adults aged 18 to 29.

However, with a severe supply and demand issue, poor insurance coverage, and a disparity in services for low-income and rural areas, Americans are struggling to access mental health care. Physical and mental healthcare services are disjointed, and improved access to mental health services is vital for allowing Americans to live healthy, full lives.

Your role as a mental health professional has never been more important. With more people than ever dialing your number and asking for help, you know firsthand how necessary mental health services are to people in your community. However, the challenge still lies in figuring out how to help the millions of adults and children in the United States who have not received treatment for their condition get into a therapist’s door.

Poor access to mental health providers is a multi-faceted issue. However, there are several steps we can take to improve access and break down the barriers preventing people from getting care.

Ready to take action? Use telehealth to increase action via Ravel Mental Health.

What Are the Top Barriers to Mental Health Care?

57% of adults with a mental illness and 60% of youth with depression did not receive treatment in the last year, which equates to millions of Americans not getting the care they need. There is not one single cause we can point to for these numbers. Here are some of the top barriers to Americans accessing the mental health care they need.

  • Shortage of mental health providers: There is a shortage of mental health professionals as the demand for mental health treatment has increased. Numbers from the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis predict a shortage of 45,000 to 250,000 providers by 2025. Additionally, data from the Kaiser Family Foundation found over 115 million people in America live in designation Health Professional Shortage Areas. 
  • Difficulties finding a provider: Many Americans have difficulties finding a provider that meets their needs, which can include specific services, approaches, accepted insurances, and location. People may call several mental health providers and never receive a call back or learn they are all overbooked. Patients may also struggle to know what kind of provider they need to see and what factors they should consider when choosing a new therapist.
  • Poor insurance coverage or high costs: According to Mental Health America, 28.69% of adults with a cognitive disability could not see a doctor due to costs. Issues with insurance coverage can prevent people from seeing a provider, whether that’s due to the individual being underinsured or the provider not accepting their insurance. Even for patients who receive insurance coverage for their care, copays, prescriptions, time away from work or spent toward transportation, and other factors can make managing the cost of treatment difficult.

Social stigma or negative selfperception: While up to 25% of Americans are living with a diagnosable mental illness, there is still a social stigma surrounding mental health. People may avoid treatment due to fears of discrimination or alienation from others. Additionally, many people have a negative self-perception of mental health, often called internalized stigma, leading to feelings of shame and secrecy surrounding their mental illness. 

How Can Mental Health Professionals Help Improve Access?

While it’s easy to focus on all the gloom and doom surrounding the mental health situation in America, there has already been progress toward building a more accessible, integrative mental healthcare system. Many mental health professionals just like you see the gaps in our current health system and are working toward finding solutions. Here are some of the key ways we can make a difference.

1. Offering Teletherapy Services

Prior to the COVID-19, more than 60% of psychiatrists reported never using telehealth. Additionally, many insurances did not provide full coverage for a telehealth visit, increasing costs for patients and making it more difficult for providers to offer this service.

However, following the pandemic, many mental health professionals are choosing to continue providing teletherapy to new and current clientele. Additionally, many states are permanently upholding COVID-19 mandates requiring insurance providers to cover telehealth services that are also covered in person.

While teletherapy is relatively new to the mental health world, allowing people to visit with a therapist online offers many significant benefits:

  • People who live in rural areas or have issues commuting can access services from their homes.
  • During the pandemic, mental health professionals saw fewer missed appointments. While 9% of psychiatrists reported that their patients kept their appointments before COVID-19, teletherapy increased this percentage to 32%.
  • Teletherapy appointments are less intimidating for some clients than face-to-face sessions.
  • Clients can more easily fit telehealth sessions into their schedule, making them less likely to have to leave work or find childcare to speak with a provider.
  • Teletherapy is just as successful as face-to-face appointments for many clients.

However, there are still some gaps and potential concerns surrounding telehealth. Poor internet connection, distractions, lack of privacy, and difficulties using video conferencing technology are just a few of the issues mental health professionals and clients run into. Some therapists tackle some of these problems by:

  • Ensuring they have a sufficient router and upgraded internet service
  • Investing in easy-to-use, HIPPA-compliant teletherapy software
  • Creating space and making accommodations to limit distractions
  • Holding consultations with patients to ensure teletherapy is the ideal choice for their environment and needs

2. Navigating Issues With Accepting Insurance

Cost is a major barrier to people who need mental health treatment, and some patients may depend on coverage to maintain regular appointments. However, choosing whether or not to accept insurance is a major battle for providers. Many providers choose to partner with only a few select insurance companies or forgo accepting insurance altogether due to the following drawbacks:

  • The lack of privacy that comes with sharing session notes with insurance providers
  • The obligation to make a diagnosis for patients to receive coverage, even though not everyone who seeks therapy has a diagnosable mental illness
  • Insurance companies requiring lower rates per session, which can cut provider’s salaries by as much as 50%
  • Receiving delayed payment, sorting through insurance paperwork, contesting claims, and paying retroactive claim denials

It is up to you as a provider to evaluate whether you’re comfortable accepting insurance either by joining a provider panel or choosing to be an out-of-network provider. This includes evaluating costs and considering if you need to expand your current client base.

3. Making Services Easy To Find

Chances are there are many people in your service area who fit the requirements of your ideal client, they just don’t know how to find you. The key is making it easy for potential patients to locate you online and providing all the details they need to know you’re the right fit.

Many private practices are creating websites that reflect their values, provide a full list of services, offer educational blogs, and more. You can also connect with clients by maintaining up-to-date social media profiles and establishing a strong web presence.

Many people find therapists through online directories, which allow patients to search through multiple providers in their area. However, there are many gaps in these platforms that make the process more difficult for mental health professionals and clients alike, such as not displaying a full, accurate list of services or indicating whether a provider is accepting new patients.

Ravel Mental Health Will Help Fill the Gap

While we’ve already established that there are many barriers getting in the way of people accessing mental health care, Ravel Mental Health is an exciting new online booking platform that will help you reach clients better than ever before. It makes it easier than ever for patients to search for providers in their areas that provide the exact services they’re looking for and even allows them to access your schedule and book an appointment on the spot.

Advanced filters take out a lot of the guesswork for people looking for mental health services, allowing them to narrow their search by provider type, insurances accepted, gender, ethnicity, religion, language, modality, and more.

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