Four Barriers to Mental Health Treatment and How Telehealth Combats Them

By Harrison Tyner

In the world today people are often beset with the challenge of obtaining the mental health treatment they need. There are several barriers that pervade through people’s lives that lead to them to miss out on this treatment. I have found that these barriers can be grouped into two categories: Practical and Emotional barriers. Inspiringly, telehealth has proven to be a viable remedy to these common issues. Take a look at these four common barriers and how telehealth has helped people overcome them.

1. Practical Barriers

Convenience: This is one of the most cited reasons why people fail to receive mental health treatment. Whether you travel for work, are a stay at home mother with three children, or live 100 miles away from the nearest specialist, there is a huge convenience factor people consider in their decision making process. This is especially true in rural areas where access to resources is limited and trips to the office become large time commitments.

Telehealth definitively nips this barrier in the bud. It allows individuals to receive the treatment they need on their own terms and, importantly, their own time. For a student that could mean from their dorm room bed, for a mother that could be from the living room while the kids are napping, and for the rural citizen it could be from the doctor’s office talking to their provider in a distant city. Indeed, whenever and wherever is an option with telehealth applications.

Cost: The cost of treatment will always be a barrier no matter what, that is until healthcare is free but don’t hold your breath. Many have the attitude that self-help will work, or that the issue will pass and they will forego treatment. Telemedicine may not be a silver bullet for these circumstances but it can help pinch a penny for those that do actively seek treatment.

By using a telehealth application you can avoid the commute to the therapist’s office altogether and use your time (I.E. your lunch break) more effectively. Also, even though the art of billing for a telehealth session is still in flux, many providers charge less than a normal session because they are often more time efficient and they don’t necessarily have to come into the office either. In that way, providers also stand to reduce their overhead costs from telehealth.

2. Emotional Barriers

Privacy: This is one of the biggest emotional barriers for people thinking about receiving treatment. Many feel uncomfortable with the idea of unlocking and giving up their most intimate secrets with a provider they barely know. More still, they don’t like the idea of visiting a foreign office or being exposed to an uncomfortable, unfamiliar environment in general. Last there is the clinical side to consider; many people that need treatment are so stricken with their illness that they struggle to even go outside let alone a therapist’s office.

Telehealth allows these people to have a session in their comfort area on their own turf, instead of an unfamiliar one. There are several studies that indicate telehealth sessions where the client is in their desired area leads them to open up more and, as a result, have more productive sessions. Telehealth is an important outlet for those individuals that I mentioned above. As an example, a therapist friend of mine recently told me about how one of his clients had massive amounts of anxiety about leaving his house and meeting him in person. As a result, all of their sessions to date had been by phone. My friend planned to use to start having face to face video conferencing sessions with him. It is important to note that telehealth applications are often used in these ways as a supplemental tool to ease clients and patients in a transitional process. Providers should still encourage positive behavior over time, like leaving the house and occasionally seeing them in person when they are ready.

Stigma: This used to be the source of an untold number of untreated issues among the general population, and it still is, although that number is decreasing as our society is becoming more aware of the serious reality of mental illness. Even today, no one wants to be seen at the therapist’s office and most keep the fact that they are receiving treatment on a need to know point of information. This is especially true for younger populations, especially students. The root of the issue is that many people negatively associate mental health issues and are quick to judge any person in treatment. The stigma surrounding mental health has assisted suicides and put a huge strain on the healthcare system.

Telehealth is an ideal tool to use with people who feel the pressure of this stigma and are hesitant to initially reach out and seek treatment. They are able to have their first sessions securely and anonymously from a telehealth application, and most importantly can get their foot in the door. It is important to note that clients should not depend on communication through telehealth apps because they feel the shame of the stigma; this is something that providers will ultimately help them overcome and feel comfortable with. A great example I like to use is with colleges and universities. Counseling centers in these areas are constantly trying to reach out to their students to let them know that mental health services are available, but even with their efforts many students won’t go because they are terrified that someone will see them. Counseling centers should implement telehealth alternatives for students for initial consults to make access easier for them and to get them used to the idea that therapy is o.k.

There are several telehealth solutions available. It is up to you to do your due diligence to find out which one suits your needs the best.