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This form of mental health services takes place entirely over digital media using computers and smart devices connected to the internet. They are used to connect people with medical professionals over long-distance.

Long-distance services have been utilised through various forms over the last century. It was a way to assist people in need of health care services that lived in extremely rural areas.

Since the internet has become accessible worldwide, this form of communication between patients and medical professionals has become more mainstream.

There are currently more health services available through digital formats than at any other time in history. [1]

Most people have been forced to learn how to navigate remote work and social situations due to Covid-19 pandemic. Mental health services are no different.

The majority of therapy and mental clinic visits moved online early in 2020. For most communities, they have remained in that form as social isolation continues.

This relocation to digital formats has increased the variety and number of resources available. [1]

There are still challenges with digital forms of kind of health care. This includes finding the most secure way to keep patient information safe and confidential while still being accessible over long-distance.

App and website programme designers have been working overtime since the beginning of the pandemic to ensure that people can receive the same treatments while their therapists and doctors adhere to the same standards in terms of protecting their rights and private information. [2]

Why Use Digital Options

There are several reasons digital mental health care services may be the right choice for your provider. It is fast, affordable, convenient, and fits well with the current need communities have for adhering to social distancing regulations.

The primary reasons to choose digital technology over other options include the following: [6]

  • It has been proven to be as effective as in-person mental health sessions.
  • It is cost-effective for both the patient and the medical provider.
  • New forms of telehealth (e.g., programmes, sites, phone apps, etc.) are continually being created with increased security and more accessibility features.

Online Digital Resources for Mental Health

Some digital resources require a connection to the internet to operate. This includes e-mail, online chat forums, live chat rooms, and video calls using various apps and sites. [2]

These might be more difficult for elderly individuals or those who do not have a firm grasp of technology. There are other options that are easy to navigate. [6]

1. Live Video Calls

Zoom, Skype, and other popular video conference apps and websites might be used temporarily, but there are security concerns involved with these methods of communication.

There is no way for either the therapist or patient to be entirely sure that their conversation is not being heard by others when using these methods.

To meet the demands of confidentiality requirements, there have been multiple free-to-use, and paid programmes explicitly created for the mental health field so that therapists can continue to meet the needs of their clients.

2. Chat Rooms

Chat rooms are often used in lieu of texting when possible because they are faster and free. It is much easier to have a real-time conversation with your therapist while using the instant response provided by chat sites and apps.

3. Mental Health Forums

There are mental health forums that are sometimes used for group therapy where specific individuals are given access to password-protected pages where they can interact with each other.

These have gained in popularity in the last few years, and there are online mental health forums for every disorder imaginable.

They can be through your healthcare provider or a public organisation that offers mental health resources. Although there are usual safety features such as anonymous posting, it is impossible to keep these sites 100% secure, so they are rarely used for one-on-one therapy interactions.

4. E-mail Correspondence

E-mail is often used for people who have a hard time with technology so that they can take their time in crafting a response without the pressure of figuring out how to figure out the controls for real-time methods like video calls and chatting.

Over the Phone Mental Health Therapy

Not everyone has access to private internet or public wifi, and some people have concerns about their information remaining safe while conversing across the internet. For those individuals, there are other methods of telehealth through phones. [2]

1. Voice and Video Calls

Hands-free phone calls are incredibly popular for telehealth between therapists and older clients. They are easier to set up than video calls however the majority of smartphones now have built-in video capabilities for any phone conversation making it easier to transition between the two depending on the need in any given session.

2. Mental Health Apps

There are hundreds of useful free mental health apps designed to help combat things like anxiety, depression, PTSD, panic attacks, eating disorders, and insomnia. A few popular apps are Stop, Breathe & Think, which is a relaxation app or Happify for stress reduction. [9]

3. Texting Based Support

Multiple local and national numbers exist for text-based therapy support giving instant access to trained counsellors immediately for any kind of mental health crisis.

These crisis text lines have become more popular since the start of Covid-19 with people using them to combat anxiety, panic attacks, heightened stress, and loneliness.

This access to live, trained volunteers from all over the UK make it possible for anyone to get mental health support when they need it most. [8]

Specific Mental Health Services Offered Online

Below are some of the ways that mental health is catered to using online resources.

1. Addiction Recovery

If you need addiction recovery resources, there are plenty available through your local health clinic. You will be able to get mental health support and ongoing recovery management through digital technology.

Some helpful sites for addiction recovery include the following.

2. Support Groups

Forums and online support group meetings using live chat or video rooms are popular but hard to monitor, so they are usually kept relatively small, with five to ten people per group.

You can find these through your therapist or care provider. Many local support groups have moved online in various formats.

3. Therapy

One-on-one and group therapy have been popular online for several years. There are sites where you can find digital-only therapists who only do sessions online or over the phone. This makes it easier to get specialised mental health care since you can pick from experts from all over the world.

4. Social Support During Isolation and Lockdowns

Throughout the pandemic, the loneliness caused by isolation and community lockdowns has made it necessary for mental health clinics to create ways to address it and help individuals stuck at home.

Even when lockdowns end the stress and paranoia associated with going out in public have increased due to the lack of a cure for Covid-19.

Online support groups and individualised therapy is one way to help combat the social distance that has become a part of everyday life. [4]

5. Prescriptions

Psychiatrists and doctors can prescribe medication through digital methods such as websites portals, making it faster and more efficient to get refills or change medicine as needed to assist with mental health symptoms. [3]

You will be able to report any side effects and get immediate dose adjustments through your pharmacy.

Limitations of Digital Resources for Mental Health

Several limitations exist with digital mental health resources. These include things like lack of access to smart devices or internet for low-income patients, a lack of technological knowledge for older generations, and telehealth being in a grey area for some insurance plans. [2]

1. Connectivity Issues

Not everyone has access to reliable internet. This could be due to their geographical area not being conducive to strong connectivity or it might be related to the low-income status, making it challenging to maintain month-to-month internet.

In the latter case substituting online options for phone therapy is always an option, but in most cases where connectivity is the issue, it will affect phone connection as well.

2. Technological Difficulties For the Older Generation

Now, more than ever, the mental health disorders of elderly individuals must be addressed. Unfortunately, they are also least likely to be familiar with the technologies used to provide digital services.

3. Regulation and Insurance Issues

The regulations which determine when and how an individual care provider is allowed to contact patients outside of their physical offices have impacted the way that clinics and therapists can communicate with clients.

Confidentiality laws, security policies, and insurance coverage all play a part in dictating to what degree mental health can be treated using digital media formats. Some insurance plans have minimal telehealth coverage, while others do not.

Due to the current pandemic, many regulations have been adjusted to allow for increases in digital services. [7]

How to Find Digital Resources

You can reach out to your insurance or health care provider to see what forms of digital services they currently have available. Most health centres also have telehealth options that you can choose from.

There are also several online digital health directories where you can search by medical need, location, or insurance coverage. [5]

References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7301824/

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/telehealth.html

[3] https://www.telehealth.hhs.gov/patients/understanding-telehealth/

[4] https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/tmj.2020.0068

[5] https://www.telehealth.hhs.gov/patients/finding-telehealth-options/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4193577/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7286230/

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6658312

[9] https://psych.ucsf.edu/copingresources/apps