HomeMore Teens Are Turning Towards Mental Health Virtual Visits to Cope With Stress

More Teens Are Turning Towards Mental Health Virtual Visits to Cope With Stress

Adolescence is a hotbed of mental and emotional change. Teens are easily overwhelmed by changing hormones, peer pressure, socio-economic stressors, and familial challenges. 

According to the World Health Organization, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among teens and one in seven experience a mental disorder. Since the pandemic, mental health emergency department visits have increased 31% in ages 12 to 17, as reported by Geode Health in Westmont, Illinois.

 Despite dire need, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports, nearly half of children with mental health issues nationwide go untreated. The post-pandemic telehealth explosion is poised to reduce that figure as teens increasingly turn to virtual mental health services.

What are Virtual Mental Health Services?

TeleHealth or TeleTherapy bypass traditional in-person or office visits and allow teens to schedule and meet with healthcare providers virtually. Voice-only options are available, though many providers prefer secure online meeting platforms like Zoom where they can see and hear patients. 

Since much of the treatment psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors offer is talk-based, virtual services make sense. And, since teens are on phones, tablets, and computers much of the time anyway, virtual visits feel comfortable and natural for many.

TeleTherapy is available for individual and group therapy and is especially beneficial to teens in rural areas or with limited mobility and access to specialized therapy services. Virtual mental health services can give teens access to providers outside of their geographic locale.

What Mental Health Issues Can Teens Get Virtual Help With?

Essentially, any mental, emotional, or behavioral condition treated using psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a telehealth option. Common issues where telehealth has proven beneficial include anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction treatment, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and bipolar-disorder. 

Besides licensed behavioral healthcare providers, a number of free online support groups are available to teens and adults. These include support for addiction, LGBTQIA2S+, life skills, anxiety, depression, chronic illness, and other physical, emotional, behavioral, and mental health conditions. The following resources list various support groups available:

Telehealth may not be right for everyone. Licensed mental healthcare providers qualified to diagnose and prescribe treatments should determine whether telehealth is ideal for individuals and their situations. 

Commonly Available Virtual Therapies

Virtual Therapies

Behavioral Activation Therapy

Commonly used to treat depression. Behavioral Activation Therapy aims to create positive emotions through healthy, engaging actions. Depression can make it difficult for people to get into action. Prescribing a treatment of taking small actions that once brought individuals joy can go a long way in overcoming negative emotions associated with depression. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Used to treat a variety of adolescent and adult psychological disorders helps patients identify and reframe negative, inaccurate or unhealthy thought patterns. Through the process, patients can diffuse or eliminate negative emotions and behaviors associated with those thoughts.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Similar to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy(CPT) helps individuals reevaluate thoughts surrounding various situations that cause negative emotions and behaviors. CPT is effective in helping individuals suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) overcome negative emotions caused by traumatic events. 

Prolonged Exposure Therapy

By discussing painful experiences and traumatic events, Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) gradually teaches individuals to overcome fears linked to memories and thoughts. Avoiding certain activities and situations because of irrational fears can be disabling. PET helps individuals experience the fullness of life again. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Combines counseling with medication to provide more holistic treatment of substance abuse patients. An example of medically-assisted Treatment is the use of Suboxone, and Methadone for treatment of opioid addiction. Naltrexone is a medically-assisted treatment for alcohol addiction. 

Collaboration and Referral Approaches to Virtual Mental Health Counseling

Psychiatrists may also prescribe psychiatric medications in addition to counseling and psychotherapy. A number of psychiatric medications can be prescribed virtually. However, prescription of potentially habit-forming drugs like stimulants for ADD and ADHD treatment or benzodiazepines for anxiety require in-person visits. Two approaches are:

Telepsychiatry Collaborative Care—where psychiatrists provide the initial diagnosis virtually. A local clinical team may provide telehealth or in-person counseling and therapy services. Local primary care physicians meet with patients and prescribe medications in cooperation with the telepsychiatrist’s recommendations. 

Telepsychiatry and Telepsychology Enhanced Referral—where either a local psychiatrist or telepsychiatrist initially diagnoses the patient and prescribes medication, then refers counseling and psychotherapy to counselors, therapists, psychologists, or other trained and licensed clinicians. 

Are Virtual Visits as Effective as In-Person Treatments?

According to Yale Medicine, “telehealth for mental health care is working.” Paige Lembeck, PhD, Yale Child Study Center clinical psychologist reports, “Often, kids jump on a session and show us how to do things on Zoom and feel more comfortable than we do with elements of it.”

Jin Jun Lee, a psychiatric nurse at the center attributed teen’s success with virtual mental health services to familiarity. 

“This younger generation has grown up with technology and they are comfortable with FaceTime. Teenagers especially like to offer a curated view of their room,” she says. “The younger group has also surprised me. I worked with several children who had not engaged well in person, but they were quite savvy with technology and eager to teach me things online. I had another child recently who wanted to communicate through the Zoom chat, as there were things she felt nervous about saying out loud.”

A study of over 1000 psychiatric patients published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that patients receiving Telepsychiatry Collaborative Care and Telepsychiatry/Telepsychology Enhanced Referral both reported statistically significant improvements in mental health symptoms and quality of life. Patients additionally perceived increased access to care and reported fewer medication side effects when attending regularly scheduled telehealth appointments. 

Another review of the effectiveness of telehealth in treating adolescent mental health evaluated data from 13,921 patients across multiple published peer-reviewed studies. The review published in the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare found online mental health interventions are effective in managing diverse mental health conditions among youth.

Checkout this article for six more ways teens can protect their mental health.

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