How virtual therapy may help support your mental health during the pandemic

It may not be surprising that the use of telehealth has jumped over the last year. With more people spending time at home, the number of older adults who had at least one telehealth visit increased substantially — from just 4% in 2019 to 26% in 2020.

With telehealth adoption comes greater access to clinical experts, including for virtual mental health care. During the pandemic, a growing number of people reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

Psychiatrists and other mental health counselors have also seen a greater influx of patients in the past year.

The benefits

Dr. Saurabha Bhatnagar, chief medical officer and head of digital & technology for UnitedHealthcare, said it’s encouraging that more people are taking advantage of virtual mental health services and seeking the help they need.

“As we are a year into the pandemic, we know the short- and long-term toll this has taken on people’s emotional well-being,” he said. “Immune systems don’t function as well when we’re feeling down, so seeking help is critical for maintaining overall health.”

This also allows a wider range of specialists who may be available, thanks to the virtual component. In fact, a third of psychologists said they are working with patients who live in a different state than their own.

A virtual conversation focused on improving emotional health may also be more private, comfortable and convenient from home — not to mention the potential cost savings. For eligible UnitedHealthcare Medicare Advantage plan members, telehealth visits are covered at no additional cost.

Opening the (virtual) door

These possible advantages are especially important to Medicare members over 65. One in four seniors in this population are estimated to be suffering from a mental health disorder — a figure that is expected to double by 2030.

“Addressing mental and emotional health concerns is especially critical among older adults,” Dr. Bhatnagar said. “You have to safeguard your mental health the way you would for any other body part and when something feels off, it’s time to get a professional opinion.”

He added there are several stressors seniors may face as they age, including an evolving purpose when entering retirement, changes in health status or a change in financial resources. These issues may be addressed through teletherapy in order to help ease anxieties and discover coping techniques.

Other resources

In stressful times, it may be difficult to manage symptoms. Here are some other ways to help find care and support.

  • A free 24/7 emotional support line is here for you to call any time at 866-342-6892. This Optum Help Line is staffed by professionally trained mental health experts. It is free of charge and open to anyone.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers 24/7 support through an online chat called Lifeline Chat. You can also call1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-799-4889 (TTY) for support.
  • The Crisis Text Line is a free resource available 24/7 to help you connect with a crisis counselor. Text “Home” to 741741

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