The stress-related toll of the pandemic is relentless. Anxiety, depression, increasing drug and alcohol use, sleepless nights, and suicides are sweeping across America. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, more than half of Americans say that the worry and emotional trauma caused by the coronavirus have had a negative impact on their mental health.
Back in June, a CDC survey showed that 40% of U.S. adults struggled with mental health or substance use issues, with 11% of those people seriously considering suicide. Even higher risk for suicide was found among certain groups, including 18- to 24-year-olds (25.5%).
Despite this ominous picture, there have been several positive signs.
One encouraging response to the challenge is a surge in people who want to become mental health therapists. According to a Wall Street Journal report, therapists “have seen their ranks swell as the stigma of counseling has diminished and new therapy platforms have launched.” Coupled with the accelerating demand for mental health services is “the flexibility and autonomy allowed by the rise in telemedicine and text therapy.” Therapist incomes vary widely, depending on education and experience and whether a therapist is working in a group or private practice setting.
The reach of psychiatrists has expanded as well, thanks to a federal action that allowed remote care visits to be reimbursed by insurers at the same rate as in-person visits. For psychiatrists, telehealth is easier than for any other specialty because “you don’t have to lay on hands,” said psychiatrist Lori Raney, MD, in an interview with MedpageToday.
“My worry,” says Dr. Raney, “is that we’re going to go back to the Dark Ages as soon as the public health emergency is over. We’re already starting to see it; state Medicaid agencies that allow billing for telephone visits are saying ‘We’re going to stop these.’ Major insurers are already calling companies and saying, ‘You can no longer use telehealth’.” Dr. Raney emphasizes that “public and private insurers need to continue allowing psychiatrists and other behavioral health clinicians to see patients via telehealth even after the pandemic ends.”
The challenge of integrating mental health services into primary care took a big step forward this month when the American Medical Association launched the Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) Collaborative.
Building on the collective knowledge from eight national physician organizations, the BHI Collaborative will be a one-stop, physician-tested, online resource that will provide a proven pathway for delivering behavioral and mental health care in primary care settings. It will allow physicians a way to efficiently accelerate the integration of mental health services into their practice routine. Plus, the AMA says it won’t require a significant financial outlay.