How COVID19 Affected the Future of Mental Health Treatment

May 13, 2021

photo mother telehealth call cropped

This Mental Health Awareness Month, Denver Health Director of Integrated Behavioral Health Jennifer Grote, PhD, explains how the expansion of telepsychiatry services changed the hospital’s approach to mental health treatment for the better. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic Denver Health and other healthcare providers across the country experienced a surge in demand for mental health care. According to one CDC report, self-reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and increased stress nearly doubled in June 2020 compared with pre-pandemic levels. The uncertainty, isolation and dramatic shift in day-to-day life resulted in many seeking out treatment. 

The Integrated Behavioral Health Division at Denver Health did not offer telehealth services prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the unprecedented public health concerns and in-person visit limitations, the team quickly pivoted to offer telehealth services, mainly in the form of telephone visits. 

Dr. Grote noted, “The demand was immediately high and has remained so throughout the pandemic as patients found telehealth to be a viable and safe means to access high quality behavioral health services. At the height of the pandemic about 70% of behavioral health services were delivered via telehealth.”Telehealth perfectly suited the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many experts in the medical field believe it is here to stay, even after lockdowns become a distant memory.

The Benefits of Telehealth

“Patients have reported many benefits of telehealth, namely access to care in a way that feels safe and comfortable for their individual needs. Our team has seen a larger number of patients who may not have been able to engage in care previously when the only option was in-person service,” said Dr. Grote.

Some of the additional benefits of Telehealth include:

  • Provides more flexibility and choice for patients in their care
  • Allows patients to coordinate visits without having to find childcare or miss school or work
  • Lessens transportation barriers for those who live far away from care or don’t have reliable transportation
  • Reduces concerns about stigma or judgment for seeking mental health care

Dr. Grote also stated that telehealth has proven to be just as effective as in-person therapy. Just like traditional therapy, in telepsychiatry therapists aim to build a rapport with patients and give them a safe space to communicate. She observed that this approach has led to success among patients since the start of telehealth at Denver Health.

The Future of Telehealth at Denver Health

As COVID-19 infection rates decline, the majority of mental health care is now being delivered in-person in Denver Health primary care clinic settings. However, demand for telehealth remains strong with 45% of appointments still being held over the phone or via video. 

Denver Health plans to continue to offer telehealth (telephone and televideo) as well as in-person visits based on patient preference. Dr. Grote noted that the hospital is also striving to increase televideo options for patients in each clinic.

Why Seek Care for Mental Health Concerns

Dr. Grote provided the following advice for those still uncertain about seeking help for their mental health concerns: “Therapy can be a safe space for patients to process feelings and develop new skills to help improve overall functioning, increase enjoyment of their lives, and improve their resiliency as we continue to navigate this pandemic.”

“Most of us have not seen events like the COVID-19 pandemic in our lifetime and the experience of stress, feelings of isolation and common behavioral health concerns such as anxiety, depression and substance use are occurring at increased rates. It is “ok to not feel ok” during these times.”

Cost of Telehealth and Making an Appointment

Telemental health is covered by many commercial insurance plans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Through July 31, 2021, patients with DFAP and CICP can access telehealth services at no cost at Denver Health primary care clinics.

To make a telehealth appointment at Denver Health please call our Appointment Center at 303-436-4949. New and existing patients can use telehealth services at Denver Health.