The emerging need for telehealth approaches for the treatment of mental illnesses and substance use disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic

Effective healthcare for mental illnesses  and substance use disorders remains  elusive in the United States with fewer than half of adults with mental health  disorders receiving treatment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, this gap in care has been magnified by the reduction in face-to-face office visits for treatment resulting from restrictions on elective care visits, physical distancing guidelines, and the fear of spreading or contracting the disease. However, this challenge is being addressed by some insurers and providers through rapidly increasing use of telehealth tools to provide treatment for mental illnesses and substance use disorders (often referred to as behavioral disorders). This relatively new approach for treatment of behavioral disorders may be more than just a stopgap solution. As many as 119 million Americans live in mental health professional shortage areas,2 and as a result, the potential benefits of eliminating the need for patients and clinicians to be in the same physical space would outlast the current pandemic. Telehealth visits may become part of the new “normal” for replacing, or at least supplementing, office visit-based treatment for behavioral health conditions.


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