Telehealth, the use of telecommunications technologies to provide healthcare at a distance, has emerged as a viable option for mental health treatment. This post explores the effectiveness of telehealth in mental health treatment, supported by recent studies, and delves into the convenience and accessibility it offers to patients, especially during challenging times such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Rise of Telehealth in Mental Health
- Telehealth has become increasingly popular due to its convenience and the ability to reach patients in remote areas. It includes various forms of technology, such as video conferencing, mobile health apps, and online management systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telehealth, making it a mainstream option for mental health care.
Evidence of Effectiveness
- A 2013 review published in the Telemedicine Journal and E-Health found that telemental health is effective for diagnosis and assessment across various populations and disorders. It was found to be comparable to in-person care, and new models of care, such as collaborative care and asynchronous models, showed equally positive outcomes. The review concluded that telemental health effectively increases access to care, which is particularly beneficial for rural and underserved populations.
Telehealth and Severe Mental Illness (SMI)
- A systematic review published in JMIR Mental Health in 2018 evaluated the use of telehealth technology for adults with Severe Mental Illness (SMI). The review found that telephone support was effective in improving medication adherence and reducing the severity of symptoms and inpatient days. Computer-assisted cognitive rehabilitation was found to be effective in improving cognitive function in patients with SMI, highlighting the versatility of telehealth applications.
Patient Acceptance and Satisfaction
- Patients have reported high levels of satisfaction with telehealth services. They appreciate the convenience, the reduced need for travel, and the ability to access care from the comfort of their own homes. Studies have shown that telehealth can reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, as patients can receive care in a private and comfortable setting.
The DBT Strategy in Telehealth
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy, has been adapted for telehealth. DBT via telehealth includes individual therapy sessions, group skills training, and phone coaching, similar to traditional DBT. It has shown promise in treating patients with borderline personality disorder and other severe mental health conditions. Telehealth allows for consistent and regular contact between patients and therapists, which is a core component of the DBT approach.
Challenges and Considerations
- While telehealth offers many benefits, it also comes with challenges such as ensuring patient privacy, navigating technology issues, and adapting therapeutic techniques for a virtual environment. Providers must be mindful of the digital divide and work to ensure that telehealth services are accessible to all patients, regardless of their technological literacy or access to reliable internet and devices.
The Future of Telehealth in Mental Health
- As technology continues to advance, it is likely that telehealth will become an increasingly integral part of mental health treatment. Ongoing research is essential to continue to evaluate its effectiveness and to develop best practices for its use. The integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning into telehealth platforms is an exciting frontier that may further personalize and enhance mental health care.
Telehealth is proving to be a valuable tool in the treatment of mental health conditions. Studies support its effectiveness, particularly for individuals with severe mental illnesses. As technology evolves, telehealth is poised to become a standard component of comprehensive mental health care, offering a blend of convenience, accessibility, and high-quality treatment.
 Hilty, D. M., Ferrer, D. C., Parish, M. B., Johnston, B., Callahan, E. J., & Yellowlees, P. M. (2013). The Effectiveness of Telemental Health: A 2013 Review. Telemedicine Journal and E-Health, 19(6), 444–454. Link
 Lawes-Wickwar, S., McBain, H., & Mulligan, K. (2018). Application and Effectiveness of Telehealth to Support Severe Mental Illness Management: Systematic Review. JMIR Mental Health, 5(4). Link