Telehealth Rendered Mental Healthcare Accessible During Pandemic

June 6, 2023 : An analysis from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) discovered that mental healthcare grade did not decline, and accessibility improved following a change to telehealth. However, racial disparities remain.

After setting restrictions on in-person care at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, stakeholders shifted to telehealth to provide and receive supervision. Although prior research indicated initial skepticism encircling telehealth use, new research from UAB found that patients received telehealth for mental healthcare en masse.

Directed by mental health researcher Yusen Zhai, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UAB School of Education’s counseling program and director of the UAB Community Counseling Clinic, the study employed the difference-in-difference approach, a quasi-experimental method.

“We utilized the difference-in-difference analysis for the first time in counseling research. It enables investigate causal relationships that are of curiosity and importance to public health and clinical practices. My coworkers and I are excited to see what this new format of analysis can bring to future counseling research studies,” stated Zhai in a press release.

From this study, Zhai and his colleagues found that patients requiring mental healthcare during the pandemic were not objected to receiving it virtually. Additionally, overall mental healthcare accessibility improved owing to telehealth.

“After conducting our study, we discovered that many people received the rapid shift to telehealth approvingly, and the shift potentially protected clients from experiencing a disruption in their existing counseling and mental health therapy programs,” continued Zhai.

Despite the generally positive results of telemental healthcare, racial and ethnic minorities faced differences.

“The move to telehealth was favorable overall, but it also showed us the increasing accessibility problems among racial and ethnic minority groups,” declared Zhai. “Some racial and ethnical minority groups were more likely to encounter mental health problems during the pandemic than others but were slightly likely to seek and use counseling assistance.”

Therefore, though telehealth-enabled mental healthcare supplies numerous benefits, measures to limit access hardships among minorities are required.

Prior research has also suggested that telehealth can support mental healthcare. However, care gaps live.

An analysis published in BMC Psychiatry in May revealed that although telehealth interventions can assist treat maternal mental health, interventions must be directed toward specific requirements.

Given the high preponderance of depression among postpartum women, researchers aimed to discover the efficacy of telehealth in treating this population. To do this, they conducted a systematic literature review with two purposes: to determine whether telehealth can reduce mental health problems in postpartum women and uncover the efficacy level of various techniques.

After reviewing 44 articles containing various conditions, researchers found that the bulk (62 percent) resulted in improvements in mental health effects among those who received care via telehealth. However, this data allowed researchers to complete that telehealth was generally successful, an area for modification related to the need for targeted telehealth treatment techniques.