topics In The News In rural Texas, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought more accessible mental health care

In rural Texas, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought more accessible mental health care

Mental health services have always been scarce in Texas’ vast rural stretches. But the pandemic has caused the state to lift restrictions on providing care online or by phone.

The coronavirus pandemic has created widespread fear and economic anxiety across Texas, and mental health experts and advocates say rural areas — which already had fewer providers and higher rates of suicide and drug overdoses — could see more severe mental health impacts than the state’s urban areas. They are predicting a lingering wave of trauma and depression even after the pandemic’s immediate effects recede and lockdowns lift.

But it’s not all bad news. Although the pandemic has aggravated existing problems, the speedy rollout of telemedicine may prove to be a boon for rural residents who urgently need mental health care. President and CEO Andy Keller, PhD spoke with the Texas Tribune:

There’s a lot of bad things happening right now because of COVID-19. But in some ways, people in rural Texas have better access to health care than they’d ever had before. All the barriers to them accessing physicians across the state have been lifted.

In April, Gov. Greg Abbott temporarily waived restrictions on telehealth, allowing mental health care providers and local mental health authorities to broadly expand services and collect reimbursement for online appointments more easily. The state also implemented a mental health hotline in March that offers free over-the-phone support and provides resources and information to callers who need help.

Although mental health care can be easier over video calls, Keller says calling in with a cellphone can be just as helpful and doesn’t require an internet connection. That’s especially important for rural areas, where another barrier to adequate treatment is lack of broadband access. About 440,000 of the half-million Texas households without access to broadband are in rural Texas.

Read the full article from the Texas Tribune.