Americans’ mental health became collateral damage in the country’s fight against the COVID-19 virus—a more conspicuous physical enemy, perhaps, than anxiety or depression. At its peak over the last year and a half, more than 40% of adults reported anxiety or depression symptoms—four times the pre-pandemic rate.
But even in the decade before the emergence of the coronavirus, Americans were becoming more anxious and depressed. According to 2018 data collected by Blue Cross Blue Shield, major depression was the second most impactful health condition for commercially insured Americans, second only to high blood pressure. Between 2008 and 2018, anxiety became more prevalent across nearly all demographic subgroups, suggesting serious deficiencies in both cultural attitudes toward mental health, and access to the health care systems meant to protect an individual’s overall wellbeing.
Social isolation, worry over economic stability and physical health, grief, fear, and uncertainty about the future are just some of the factors exacerbating depression and anxiety symptoms for many Americans. With the increasing prevalence of these behavioral health concerns across the population, the U.S. is also experiencing a shortage of mental health professionals to meet the rising demand.
According to a 2020 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 119 million Americans live in regions designated as mental health professional shortage areas, or HPSAs. Just over 25% of the need for mental health professionals is being met nationally.
Telehealth services are one emergent adaptation with staying power beyond the scope of the pandemic that can address this critical need at a more affordable cost. In a 2021 analysis, McKinsey found that telehealth utilization, across all medical services, increased 38 times from the pre-pandemic baseline. Of 23 medical specialities, psychiatry has the highest telehealth adoption rate with 50% of visits between April 2020 and February 2021 conducted virtually.
CirrusMD conducted a physician-led study to better understand how telemental health services can affect depression and anxiety outcomes. Study participants had access to behavioral health care via CirrusMD’s telehealth platform beginning in June 2020 and were not required to self-diagnose as having behavioral health issues beforehand. The study was conducted over six months, with individual patients treated for an average of 8.1 weeks to analyze how telehealth could impact treatment for depression and anxiety. Patients’ scores are captured through the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7). Participants were limited to people seeking pharmacotherapy treatment. Diagnoses scores from the PHQ-9 and the GAD-7 are clinically recognized.
The PHQ9 assesses symptom severity based on total score where 5, 10, 15, and 20 are thresholds of mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe depression, respectfully. The GAD7 assesses symptom severity based on total score of 5, 10, and 15, representing mild, moderate and severe symptoms, respectfully. Patient outcomes were determined to be clinically significant if the patient experienced a 5-point or greater reduction in either score.
Read on to learn more about the outcomes of CirrusMD’s telemental health treatment of anxiety and depression in participants with various forms of insurance coverage. Charts have been included at the end of the piece that capture the findings of the study.