Teladoc exec: Why COVID-19 is proving a 'great equalizer' for mental health care

Telehealth consultation
Telehealth is becoming critical for mental health care amid COVID-19. (Getty/AndreyPopov)

The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be a “great equalizer” for behavioral health.

Virtual care giant Teladoc is seeing stigmas around seeking behavioral health care break down as more people seek out telehealth visits, Gustavo Kinrys, M.D., medical director and vice president of behavioral health services at Teladoc Health, told FierceHealthcare.

And that’s a trend he expects to see continue beyond the novel coronavirus.

“Virtual care and the pandemic itself have both been shattering the stigma about mental health and people are increasingly more comfortable with virtual care solutions,” Kinrys said. “So we anticipate that will continue beyond the pandemic.”

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He gave an example of a patient he treated—a young man who was an amateur athlete. Due to COVID-19, he was staying inside and unable to enjoy his normal activities.

The patient was struggling to deal with the isolation and began seeking treatment virtually. He would not likely have done so without the digital platform, Kinrys said. Now, that patient has significantly improved and is able to open up to friends and family about his struggles as well.

“It brings again the point that the pandemic is shattering the stigma of mental health and it’s really accelerating the process of people … accessing mental health," he said.

Teladoc Health research shows that the pandemic is having a significant impact on the mental health of many Americans. Data released earlier this month found nearly half of the 1,001 respondents (47%) report negative impacts to their mental health.

Among those who were recently laid off because of the pandemic, that rate was even higher, with 61% saying their mental health had worsened.

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The survey found women were more likely than men to report worsening mental health, with 52% of women saying so compared to 42% of men. Close to half (49%) of those between the ages of 18 and 34 reported worse mental health due to the pandemic, the largest group.

Teladoc Health said requests for mental health virtual visits among people aged 18 to 30 doubled in March and April this year, and the number of its members diagnosed with adjustment anxiety disorder increased by 60%.

Thirty-eight percent of those over 65 also said they were feeling the mental health impacts of COVID-19, according to the survey.

Teladoc Health's found these trends are pushing some employers to explore new—and more—ways to help workers manage their mental health. About 27% of employers are taking proactive steps to address these behavioral health needs under the pandemic, according to the survey.

“We have seen a lot of people transition to virtual care, in particular individuals that would possibly be more reluctant to do so previously,” Kinrys said.