COVID-19 Is Making Psychiatric Treatment Tougher

THURSDAY, April 9, 2020 (HealthDay News) — In the best of times, it can be hard to get mental health treatment. But these definitely aren’t the best of times, and even for people who have established relationships with mental health professionals, the coronavirus pandemic is making it harder to find the right care.

The good news is that insurance companies are often reimbursing for telehealth behavioral health services now (even if they weren’t before), and regulations on how mental health professionals can practice are relaxing.

And, for most people, telehealth sessions can be helpful, according to Dr. Shabana Khan, a member of the American Psychiatric Association’s committee on telepsychiatry.

“Telepsychiatry can be used across the lifespan for a wide variety of conditions, including depression and anxiety,” Khan said. She said she’s also used it to treat more serious conditions, such as chronic schizophrenia.

For people in crisis, Khan said providers can do initial evaluations through telemedicine, and if a higher level of help is necessary, they can send people for emergency psychiatric care.

For most people, telemedicine for mental health care can be convenient, and right now, “it can literally save lives,” by keeping people at home, Khan said.

In general, telemedicine is well received by both patients and clinicians, she said. “Some clinicians are surprised at how much patients are embracing the new technology,” Khan added.

Still, the American Psychiatric Association is concerned that not everyone who wants services can get them. Because not everyone has access to a computer or fast internet service, the American Psychiatric Association recently asked the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ease requirements and allow telephone appointments.

Vaile Wright is director of clinical research and quality for the American Psychological Association. She said, “It’s very normal for people to feel anxious and fearful right now. These feelings can motivate us to protect ourselves and do things like washing hands and social distancing. It’s [a concern] when fear and anxiety lead us to avoid and isolate and panic.”

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