How the Coronavirus Outbreak is Changing Our Approach to Mental Health Care

Online therapy is here to stay — and that's a good thing.

By Elizabeth Yuko, Ph.D.
April 2, 2020

Several weeks into the coronavirus outbreak and practicing social distancing, most of us have experienced some major shifts in our lifestyle. Many people are working from home (if they’re lucky enough to still have a job), socializing is now done exclusively online, and what were once simple tasks like going grocery shopping are now complicated, potentially dangerous missions. We’re also anxious and exhausted

For those of us who depend on in-person therapy to help treat mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, our new life in isolation means this part of our regular routine has also been interrupted. But not only are there ways around this — these accommodations may mean positive changes to mental health care that ideally will last long beyond the end of the pandemic.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen a greater acceptance of therapy via video chat when in-person appointments couldn’t take place. This form of telehealth has been used to help increase access to mental health services for those with disabilities or people who live in areas with a lack of therapists, but hasn’t been an option for everyone. Of course, some prefer seeing their therapists face-to-face, but now because that is no longer a possibility, there has been a much higher demand for online options.

Ideally, online video chat therapy should take place on a HIPAA-compliant encrypted website, like Zoom, Doxy, and TheraNest. But given the unprecedented pandemic — and the fact that it’s definitely not improving our mental health — teletherapy is becoming even more accessible. Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced that it will waive penalties for potential HIPAA violations during the pandemic. This means that therapists can now use platforms like Skype or FaceTime to conduct therapy appointments. And though the same privacy concerns with non-encrypted sites still exist, this updated policy means more people will have access to teletherapy when they may need it most.

If you typically see a therapist for in-person appointments (and haven’t done so already), get in touch with them to see if moving your sessions online is an option. If you aren’t currently working with a therapist, but would like to get some mental health support, this may be a good time to look into some of the virtual therapy and mental health apps currently available, like Talkspace or Better Help. Even though the coronavirus outbreak won’t last forever, making mental health services more accessible to everyone is a step in the right direction and something that should continue long after the social distancing guidelines have been lifted. 

About the writer:

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer as well as an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University. She has written for print and online publications, including The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe AtlanticRolling StoneCNNFodor’sLifehackerReader’s Digest and Playboy.

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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