Updated November 2020
[This article was written with Dr. Jennifer Gentile, Medical Director of Behavioral Health for Amwell]
Mental health conditions affect us all – whether you are coping with the death of a family member, personal struggles with anxiety, or know of a family member or friend challenged by depression. In fact, one in four adults experiences mental illness in a given year – approximately 61.5 million Americans. One of the hardest parts of dealing with a mental health concern is simply getting the help you need. Despite the availability of effective evidence-based treatment, about 40% of individuals with serious mental illness do not receive care and many who begin an intervention fail to complete it.
Dr. Jennifer Gentile addresses the availability, accessibility, acceptability, and affordability barriers that prevent people from getting the care they need and what Amwell is doing to make a difference.
According to a recent study, there is only one mental health-care provider for every 790 individuals. The bottom line is there are not enough providers to meet the needs of the over 61 million people who need care every year. Dr. Gentile notes, "In my experience as a psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, it would sometimes take weeks, if not months, to find an available and appropriate community provider to refer a recently discharged child with mental health needs."
Mental health care is not always easily accessed; at best it can often be described as cumbersome. The most common way people have found therapists in the past is by looking at the back of their insurance card and calling the phone number or looking online. Once you have a list, you have to narrow down candidates by geographic location, education, and training, and then inquire as to whether or not the therapist has room in their schedule to take a new patient. However, having insurance does not mean access to care. In areas like Massachusetts, DC, or Vermont, many people with mental illness report having an unmet need even though most are insured. Here in the Boston area, which is saturated with mental health professionals, most practices are not taking new patients because they are already at capacity. As Dr. Gentile recalls, “A recent request for a couple’s therapist took me 2 ½ weeks to find a good match – and I am a professional in the mental health field with many friends and connections. If you are lucky enough to find a therapist accepting new patients, making the appointment can also be a barrier to care. Often, it involves taking time off work or finding childcare, which can lead to increased stress, rather than helping you begin to feel better.”
Although mental health problems are common in our world today, the stigma associated with seeking help is still a top reason why people avoid it. They suffer in silence because they don’t want their co-workers, friends, or family to know about their anxiety or depression. They don’t want to risk running into a neighbor at the local therapist’s office or to let their primary care provider know their private business. It can be difficult to explain a very personal story to the intake coordinator at a therapist’s office, and sitting in a waiting room full of strangers can make a person feel even more vulnerable. In many small towns across America, there are only a few mental health providers per community, which makes privacy and confidentiality close to impossible.
Despite the Mental Health Parity Act, the cost of mental health care is still out of reach for many Americans. Affordability is not just about paying for a visit; you also have to keep in mind missed time from work, the cost of transportation to and from your visit, and parking fees. Due to the first three A’s discussed – acceptability, accessibility, and availability – many people end up paying out of pocket for mental health services, which can equal a day or more pay for the average American.
The Solution: Amwell
Amwell has a thoughtfully designed online behavioral health practice that allows anyone to see a therapist right from their computer or smartphone. It is a new and innovative way to make behavioral health care more convenient and cost-effective. Amwell’s therapy program is staffed by a group of highly trained and highly qualified licensed mental health clinicians from across the country available now to see patients. Every therapist has at least a Master’s degree and is licensed to practice in their state. All therapists are trained in prevention and treatment techniques, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) that have been shown to produce rapid and lasting symptom relief. Especially in the area of behavioral health, the ability to do this interaction at the time that you choose and in a private setting of your choosing, and in knowing that you don't have to physically see anyone when scheduling or waiting for an appointment, plays a big role in how simple and accessible mental health care becomes.
Making an appointment on Amwell is as simple as downloading our mobile app or visiting to our homepage. There you can read therapist profiles, choose who you’d like to see, and make an appointment at your convenience, seven days a week 7 am - 11 pm. Appointments are usually available within 24 hours and the visits can occur in the privacy of your home. Not to mention, pricing on Amwell is affordable: visits cost just $99 for a 45-minute session (before insurance).
In addition to addressing the identified barriers to access mental health care, Amwell offers wellness support for smoking cessation, stress management, insomnia, weight loss, and anger management via collaborative care with our online physicians and dieticians. We provide a team approach for psychiatric medication management with our online physicians. Sometimes making the first step in seeking care is the most difficult – understanding that you want help and that help is accessible and beginning to experience the freedom that comes with opening up and talking to someone. Knowing that therapists on Amwell come to you might allow you to take that first step and begin in getting help from a professional who can understand your issues and help you with them.
Are you ready to take the first step to get the mental health care you need? Learn more about our therapy services and get started today.