How Telemedicine Combats Negative Behavioral Health Stigmas

Strength in numbers.

A common saying, yes, but not always true...especially when it comes to behavioral health care. It's no secret that behavioral health issues are on the rise in our country. Every year, one in five adults are diagnosed with a mental health disorder (more than 43 million Americans). Despite this growing number, 60 percent of those diagnosed with a mental health condition do not seek treatment.

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Clearly, even though more people than ever are able to relate to those suffering from a mental illness, the majority of people are still avoiding treatment.

Why?

There could be a variety of reasons specific to each patient - access to care, financial means, etc.

However, one obstacle that is still making it difficult for mental health patients to seek the care they need is the traditional stigma often associated with behavioral health issues. 

In fact, 71 percent of U.S. adults who suffer from depression don't even contact a mental health professional.

What is the stigma associated with behavioral health issues?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, stigma is discrimination and reflects prejudice, dehumanizes people with mental illness, trivializes their legitimate concerns and is a significant barrier to effective delivery of mental health services.

Psychology Today notes that recent research suggests that the majority of people "hold negative attitudes and stereotypes towards people with mental illness."

Negative stereotypes often include perceptions that people with mental illness are dangerous or even "crazy or weird."

The result of these perceptions often results in social distancing with respect to people with mental illness. Greater social isolation and loneliness only worsens the condition of those with mental health issues, too, from accompanying poor mental and physical health outcomes to even early mortality.

Psychology Today also explains that the stigma of behavioral health issues can be an internal struggle, rather than just the product of outside forces. "Self-stigma" can also worsen the prospects of recovery. Typically, this "self-stigma" can cause a "why try" attitude, or convince people that its best to either separate from or suppress the anxiety or depression they're struggling with at the moment. Neither of which are beneficial for more positive outcomes.

Telehealth helps fight the stigma through convenience and greater access to care

Telemedicine technology is rapidly expanding, and one of the areas that benefits the most from telemedicine is behavioral health. There are many ways telehealth is improving behavioral health care, but the technology also helps to reduce the negative stigma surrounding mental health.

The convenience of the telehealth is one of its biggest strengths. Patients can talk with their provider right from their phone, any time from any location. For behavioral health patients, this means that they're able to access the mental health care they need from the comforts and privacy of their own home. For people who worry about being treated differently because of their mental illness, this extra level of privacy can have hugely positive effects.

Overall, telehealth for behavioral health is a valuable tool for providing those suffering from mental illness with greater access to care, no matter where they live, overcoming a shortage of behavior health professionals, which is one of the industry's biggest issues.

  • More than half of U.S. counties have zero psychiatrists, according to a 2016 Health Affairs report
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 111 million people live in "mental health professional shortage" areas
  • 66 percent of primary care physicians report difficulty referring patients for mental health care, twice the number reported for any other specialty, according to the journal Health Affairs.

Traditionally, the lack of mental health professionals has meant less people receiving the care they need, further perpetuating negative stigmas associated with behavioral health. However, through telehealth technology, traditional barriers to care are torn down, making it more likely that greater numbers of mental health patients can seek help.

Simply put, the more behavioral health patients are able to receive care, the more likely the negative stigma surrounding mental health will disappear and lead to better quality care as a whole throughout the country.

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