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The move towards virtual mental health services amid the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with a decrease in interruptions to psychotherapy services, according to a new study.

Featured in Psychiatric Services, a publication from the American Psychiatric Association, the research sought to evaluate the impact of transitioning to virtual behavioral healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic on population-level psychotherapy disruption. The study received support from the National Institute of Mental Health and was conducted within the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN).

The study included 110,089 unique patients with a psychiatric diagnosis who attended at least two psychotherapy visits between June 14, 2019 and December 15, 2020. The study period captured 555,620 visits in the time before or after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 9-month period after the COVID-19 onset. Disruptions in mental health services were characterized as a lapse exceeding 45 days between visits, which could be classified as either in-person or virtual.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers found that the median time between psychotherapy visits was 27 days. During the pandemic, however, when mental health appointments became reliant on virtual formats, the median time between visits was 14 days. The general conclusions drawn from this study show better adherence to virtual mental health care appointments compared with in-person visits.

Researchers also wrote, “Virtual care may have many benefits compared with in-person care, including greater ease of access, fewer barriers related to transportation, less need to take off time from work, and less stigma. Individuals in rural areas may benefit substantially from ongoing use of virtual care.”

The comprehensive results in this study also substantiate earlier research, which indicates that older individuals and those residing in rural areas might encounter increased interruptions in mental health care.

Virtual mental health care formats may be especially fitting, as standard mental health evaluations typically do not necessitate physical examinations. Numerous treatments, such as verbal psychotherapy, are primarily conveyed through discussion.

The concluding research revealed a decrease in disruptions for psychotherapy access with virtual mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic. These findings endorse the ongoing availability of virtual mental health care appointments and demonstrate that virtual care may be particularly beneficial in supporting ongoing treatment.


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Carly Rae Van Zant