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Coronavirus’ Impact on Mental Health Hasn’t Been All Bad, As Telehealth Increases Access to Care

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Photo: LinkedIn

One good thing COVID-19 has caused is increased access to mental health care through telehealth. WFSU’s Regan McCarthy has more.

For many of Thomas Joiner’s patients, their mental health has actually improved during the coronavirus pandemic.

Joiner runs a psychotherapy clinic with patients who are at high risk for suicide. He says concerns about the coronavirus caused his clinic to move to remote work.

“We transitioned all of the appointments immediately in March to telehealth. Surprisingly a seamless transition. And even more surprisingly, their suicide risk, from January to February, went down March to April, and we attribute it to ongoing engagement via telehealth with our clinic.”

Joiner is a professor of psychology at Florida State University.

“And my specialty is suicidal behavior, the prevention of it.”

He spoke during the Children and Youth cabinet meeting chaired by Florida’s First Lady Casey DeSantis.

Outgoing Agency for Healthcare Administration Secretary Mary Mayhew also attended the meeting. She says increased access to telehealth is one thing she hopes will stick around after the pandemic.

“When someone is ready to access treatment, the door needs to be ready to open. And that is the value of telehealth.”

Mayhew says she’s also seen a significant increase in telehealth use during the last several months.

“I completely agree about what we have seen through the Medicaid program in terms of the skyrocketing increase of telehealth, the use of it, providers embracing it and individuals who need access to services being able to take advantage of it. That is a huge benefit to people being able to timely access mental health and substance abuse treatment. The pandemic has been a catalyst for change.”

But Mayhew says it’s important to consider how that level of access can be maintained. Meanwhile, some have raised concerns about barriers to access.

For Joiner, he says that’s something his patients have been able to work through. For example, Joiner says he works with some people who live in more rural areas.

“Of the greater Tallahassee area who may not have great internet access. And we’ve had to trouble shoot with them to get access. But once we clear that barrier, we’ve been very pleasantly surprised about the uptake, the user experience of our students and community members—and again with these very distressed people, thus their engagement with us in the first place, how well that’s gone.”

And Joiner admits there’s no “one size fits all” solution for every patient. But he says the increased access to care that telehealth has provided for his patients has proven to be a major help.

If you’d like to listen to this story, click on the clip at the top of the page.

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