The growth of virtual mental health counseling during the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has increased both access to virtual mental health counseling and the number of people using it.

Isolation and fear have raised the demand for counseling as more people look for support they cannot find on their own. 

Prior lack of access to care 

According to the Harvard Business Review, 55% of the counties in the United States lack mental health professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists. The lack of access to mental health support is especially problematic in rural and poor areas. 

For many people, access to mental health services is insufficient and difficult to obtain. There are difficulties in finding providers, having reliable transportation and paying for services.

Some parts of the country are experiencing shortages of mental health professionals and existing workers are struggling to keep up. This makes it hard for patients to get consistent appointments, which are necessary to improve mental health. 

The barriers to obtaining mental health services force many people to give up and stop trying to find a counselor. Finding a provider and paying for treatment continue to be top issues.

With limited options and long wait times to make an appointment, scheduling a visit to see a counselor in person is a challenge. Since insurance coverage can also vary, paying for visits is another obstacle.  

Needing help during the pandemic 

An estimated one in five adults or about 44 million Americans have a mental illness and need help. The need for more clinical mental health counselors is growing and projected to increase by 19% through 2024. This has become more evident during the coronavirus pandemic as isolation, quarantines and illness have added extra stress. 

The fear of getting sick on a personal level has been combined with concerns for loved ones who may be at a higher risk of getting coronavirus due to age or health problems. Many people are experiencing stress, anxiety and depression. 

The feelings of isolation and not being able to see friends, family or loved ones are also common. The coronavirus pandemic has closed nursing homes and hospitals to visitors in many locations. In addition, schools, colleges, places of worship and some businesses have shut down in-person meetings. 

As multiple cities experience lockdowns, and some individuals have to quarantine alone, there is a growing mental health crisis in the country. The isolation is increasing the rates of depression and anxiety. In addition, substance abuse and suicidal ideation rates have also increased, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

People are experiencing illness, job loss, negative news and losing loved ones at the same time. This creates an enormous burden on their mental health. 

More options for counseling 

Lockdowns, isolation orders and social distancing requirements are making it harder than ever for people to obtain mental health counseling in person.

Combined with fears of going into any medical facility because of the risk of coronavirus, the crisis is reaching new levels. However, technology has offered an effective solution to help connect counselors with patients. 

During the pandemic, more people are using technology to connect with others virtually. From business meetings on Zoom to homework assignments on Google Drive, people are finding ways to share information and talk to each other. Telehealth is seeing a similar growth. 

Virtual mental health counseling is increasing during the pandemic. Online therapy is similar to regular appointments except the patient is not in the same room as the provider. It is a safe way to obtain mental health counseling in the comfort of your home without needing to travel. It also creates face-to-face interactions because patients can see the counselor. 

Virtual care is allowed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA, which protects patients’ privacy. Compliance with HIPPA is essential since providers can get into trouble if they are not following the rules.

For example, there are HIPAA approved video conferencing software programs that safely connect providers with patients. The security is on the same level as banking, so all communication is safe. In addition to video calls, there are options for secure chatting or messaging. 

Another HIPPA compliant part of virtual care is secure emailing programs. These programs allow the patients and counselors to send emails and receive them with encryption and to use secure web forms with built-in electronic signatures. This protects a patient’s privacy and creates peace of mind. 

The growth of virtual mental health counseling during the coronavirus pandemic has created more ways for people to obtain the help they need. During these challenging times of illness and isolation, it is crucial that patients have a way to access mental health services and see providers.

Fortunately, there are secure platforms and software programs that make the technology easy to use. Staying HIPAA compliant is important even during a pandemic.