How Use of Technology Improves Access to Mental Healthcare

Mental Health of America completed a survey of the United States and found that in 2020, 18.57% of adult Americans had a mental illness or about 45 million Americans. In addition, 26 million of them had a mental illness that isn’t being treated or hadn’t had access to proper mental healthcare about 57.2%.

The prevalence rate of untreated mental illness in adults varies from state to state, with the lowest being at 40.7% in Vermont and the highest being 64.8% in California.

Mental illnesses, such as major depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, other psychotic disorders, and personality disorders, can affect many different areas of people’s lives. When these mental illnesses go untreated, it can increase the risk of unemployment, unnecessary disability, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide, and overall poor quality of life.

Once one of these adverse effects presents itself, it’s likely to cause a snowball effect of other negative consequences, leading to even more barriers to access to treatment. So how can technology and software help improve access to mental healthcare? Let’s discuss.

Barriers to Proper Mental Healthcare in the United States

Common barriers to receiving appropriate mental healthcare include abandonment of people with mental illness by the public health system, treatment gaps, lack of knowledge about mental illness, underuse of services by users, discontinuous care, and low social and or family support. However, in recent years, technology has been integrated into mental healthcare more and more, with largely positive effects.

Mental health professionals have become creative in finding ways to use technology to their advantage to help bridge the many gaps found in mental healthcare and serve the community in a more meaningful way. Many of these barriers can be eliminated or reduced significantly with the help of technology in the field of mental health.

3 Important Ways Technology Can Increase Access to Appropriate Mental Healthcare

Diverting individuals with mental illness from jail to mental health clinics or facilities.

While approximately 1/5 of the United States population has a mental illness, the rate of mental illness within jails and prisons is much higher. For example, 64% of jail inmates, 54% of state prisoners, and 45% of federal prisoners report issues with mental health.

Substance use is also common among inmates and often co-occurring with mental illness. One of the biggest reasons mental illness is such a big problem in correctional facilities is that these individuals enter the criminal justice system instead of the mental health system, which would have served their needs better.

Once they enter the correctional facility, it isn’t easy to receive the mental healthcare they need, even if offered. In addition, prisoners experience many challenges in this environment that cause them to feel physically and psychologically unsafe.

When they feel unsafe in these ways, they are less likely to reach out for help and participate in mental health services. Doing so can put them at risk as they will keep to themselves instead of seeking treatment.

So how do these individuals find themselves in prison, to begin with? Why hadn’t they enrolled in mental health services when they had the chance?

These are complicated questions for which the answers vary for each individual. However, the barriers presented at the beginning of this article and the effects of those barriers are what causes individuals to find themselves in prison before they get appropriate mental health treatment.

Once they are presented with any type of intervention, whether involuntary or court-ordered, too often, this means individuals are incarcerated first, which negatively affects their mental health further.

This process could be avoided by filling gaps in communication. For example, when police respond to situations in the community, they should be able to access additional information about the individual that is pertinent to their case, such as their mental health status.

With Julota, they can access this information and make a more informed decision to take them to the hospital or the mental health clinic for further evaluation. That option is often more appropriate for the individual than taking them to jail. In addition, Julota allows officers to quickly check for availability at mental health clinics and efficiently coordinate care with mental health clinics.

Improved communication between all mental health providers and other helping professions.

Each helping profession is trained differently based on the philosophy of their field of practice. Because of this, they each make different decisions regarding the next steps for crises they may be responding to.

Thus, police officers may not have any other choice but to send an individual to jail that may have benefited more from mental health treatment. The fault is not with the police officer but a fault of gaps in the system. Unless CIT certified police are typically not trained to respond to mental health crises like social workers and other mental health professionals are.

There have been many co-responder programs developed within the United States to increase responses to mental health calls by social workers accompanied by police officers. These programs have been very successful within the community.

However, it is crucial to consider that there will still be police officers who may get a call to a mental health crisis and not have a social worker available right away to help them. In these cases, they have to do what they are trained to do and decide right away.

Without access to open communication with mental healthcare providers, they are likely to make decisions as they always have. However, suppose they have access to open communication, such as technology that increases their information and holistic view of an individual. In that case, they can make a more informed decision and include social services personnel to help meet the person’s needs they are responding to.

Offering telehealth

The pandemic allowed our communities to experiment with telehealth services when social distancing was first recommended. Telehealth is a service in which healthcare providers can provide their usual service through audio and video apps such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

This service has been beneficial for many people in decreasing barriers to accessing mental healthcare. However, many people find it difficult to attend appointments because of childcare issues, transportation issues, not being able to take extra time off work, bad weather, frequent illness, and more.

They can plan to attend an hour therapy session, but finding ways to get to the appointment physically can present a significant barrier, so having telehealth available removes those barriers.

Real Results in Real Communities

Communities all over the United States have been using varied jail diversion and mental health response programs. Moreover, they have been utilizing technology to improve communication among community services.

The results have shown that this approach is better serving their community overall. For example, CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, a program serving their community for over 30 years, had about one out of 60 calls per day on average where police had to assist them with a call. In 2019, they took a load of 18,583 calls off of police officers, or about 60 calls per day. This allows individuals to be linked to mental health treatment more quickly as they are being met with a mental health professional. As a result, police officers have more time to respond to crimes and public safety issues.

Other programs have sprouted across the country over the years and have positively impacted their communities. For example, STAR in Denver, Colorado responded to 2,500 calls in the program’s first six months, only 748 of which required police assistance. In addition, MCAT in Indianapolis, Indiana, helped relieve officers’ workload by responding to mental health emergencies.

LEAD in Seattle, Washington helped link individuals with treatment immediately with the understanding that if they participate, they will not have legal charges filed against them.

How Julota Can Help Improve Access to Mental Healthcare in Your Community

There are many helping professions within each community, such as police officers, social workers, EMS, and mental health practitioners. Each profession is trained differently and thus has different philosophies of how to help the community.

Law enforcement professionals are trained to serve, protect, and enforce the laws. EMS professionals are trained to respond to emergencies and save lives when medical concerns are present.

Social workers and mental health professionals are trained to properly use de-escalation techniques and know the best course of action to take when treating those with mental illnesses. Each of these helping professions is vital to the communities they serve, but it can be harmful when they are not communicating with each other.

Julota has worked hard to create cloud-based software to fill in this gap between helping professions effectively and efficiently collaborate to create a well-coordinated network.

This is especially helpful when helping professionals respond to crisis situations. In addition, Julota software allows interfaces between your CAD system, EHR, or ePCR. So you can see right away which type of assistance is necessary and whether or not they are already connected to a mental healthcare provider, substance abuse counsellor, or other community services.

Schedule a demo today to learn more about how Julota can help your community.