5 Trends to Watch for in the Post COVID-19 World

The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health field cannot be understated. In the past year, behavioral health providers have witnessed a surge in demand for their services and have quickly worked to implement solutions that would enable effective, socially-distanced treatment. But what can the mental health field expect as the pandemic becomes a thing of the past? What does behavioral health look like in the post COVID-19 world? Keep reading to find out.

1. Increased Demand for Behavioral Health Services

two people discussing behavioral healthA recent poll from the National Council for Behavioral Health has found that the demand for mental health and addiction treatment services has significantly increased as a result of COVID-19. Of the behavioral health organizations surveyed, 52% reported an increase in the demand for services and 65% had to cancel, reschedule or turn away patients due to diminished capacity. What does this mean for the post-COVID-19 future?

Just like the 1918 influenza pandemic, the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic will be felt long after the last restriction (e.g., mask mandates, social distancing, restricted gatherings) has been lifted. This combined with the fact that stigmas surrounding mental illnesses are declining means more people will seek out treatment to reclaim their sense of “normalcy.”

In the weeks and months ahead, behavioral health providers can expect to see more patients grappling with substance abuse, anxiety and depression issues. Furthermore, the current emphasis on cleanliness and sanitation is likely to result in more patients experiencing the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

2. Expansion of Behavioral Telehealth Services

Behavioral telehealth services have played an instrumental role in keeping providers and patients connected through these tumultuous times. However, as vaccinations become more widely available and the instances of infection continue to decline, will behavioral health specialists choose to return to their brick-and-mortar clinics?

An August 2020 survey from Tridiuum, a digital behavioral health company, found that 70% of surveyed mental health providers plan to continue offering telehealth services post-pandemic. Moving forward, these providers intend to leverage virtual visits for at least 50% of their patients. Furthermore, of the providers that offered virtual visits during the pandemic, 81% said their interventions “were equally effective or more effective at improving patients’ conditions as in-person visits.”

Historically, patients with significant barriers (e.g., personal, societal, transportation) to face-to-face therapy sessions have gone without the help of mental health professionals. However, the expansion and effectiveness of behavioral telehealth services means that these patients will have consistent access to qualified professionals going forward.

The expansion and effectiveness of behavioral telehealth services means that traditionally underserved patients will have consistent access to qualified mental health professionals going forward.

3. Increased Behavioral Health App Popularity

In the face of safer-at-home orders and an economic shutdown, an increasing number of individuals turned to “health apps” as a cost-effective and socially-distanced means of addressing their well-being. In fact, a January 2021 article from ComputerWeekly.com reported that COVID-19 was directly responsible for a 25% increase in health app downloads, particularly mental health apps.

While very little clinical evidence exists (yet) that supports the efficacy of behavioral health apps in the treatment of mental health disorders, one thing is clear: patients appreciate having instantaneous access to self-management resources. As mental health professionals look past COVID-19 and into the future, they can expect a landscape that integrates these apps as part of their treatment protocol.

Currently, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has developed an app rating system to help psychiatrists and other mental health professionals assess the efficacy and risks of mobile and online apps. This tool gives practitioners a way to make informed decisions when considering what apps will work best for them and their patients.

4. Increased Demand for PMHNPs

It is no secret that the United States is currently experiencing a dramatic shortage of mental health professionals. According to the National Council of Behavioral Health (NCBH), 77% of the counties in the country are experiencing a “severe shortage of mental health providers.” As more individuals turn to behavioral health specialists in the wake of COVID-19, how will the healthcare industry meet this demand?

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) are qualified to assess, diagnose and treat the mental health needs of their patients. While it takes (on average) 12 years to become a licensed psychiatrist, PMHNPs can complete their education and training in eight years, shaving four years off the training process.

As the healthcare industry looks to fill the mental health provider gaps in the months and years ahead, the utilization of PMHNPs (allowed to practice to the full extent of their training) will ensure that more patients have access to effective treatment options.

As the healthcare industry looks to fill the mental health provider gaps in the months and years ahead, the utilization of PMHNPs will ensure that more patients have access to effective treatment options.

5. More Empowered Consumers

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has reshaped the way patients access behavioral healthcare. Gone are the days of making an appointment (weeks in advance) to meet with a provider at a clinic. Thanks to telehealth services and behavioral health apps, patients can now access the resources they need at a time and in a way that is convenient for them.

Additionally, as more clinics integrate telehealth services, they will not only be able to reach more patients, they will also be able to leverage providers from different geographic locations (increasing the total scope of services they can provided).

Taken all together, these advancements in mental healthcare mean that the patients (aka the consumers) have more treatment options available to them. Ultimately, this expanded market of choice will create patients that are more empowered to critically evaluate their providers prior to treatment. Consequently, the behavioral health field will see an increased emphasis on patient satisfaction.

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the pace of change within the mental health field. Moving forward, behavioral health specialists can expect these changes to remain a permanent part of their landscape as they generally improve the overall health and wellness of the patients they treat. It is an exciting time to work in this field!

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