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Pandemic Disrupted In-Person Mental Health Services

However, expansion of telehealth yielded net increase in care for major depressive disorder, anxiety, and adjustment disorder

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 10, 2023 (HealthDay News) — The pandemic disrupted in-person mental health care, but the expansion of telehealth enabled care for an increasing number of patients, according to a study published online Jan. 6 in JAMA Health Forum.

Ryan K. McBain, Ph.D., from RAND Corporation in Boston, and colleagues used county-level mental health service utilization data from a national U.S. database of commercial medical claims (Jan. 5 to Dec. 21, 2020) from 5.1 million adults.

The researchers found that the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with more than a 50 percent decline in in-person mental health care service utilization rates. For example, at baseline, a mean of 11.66 weekly beneficiaries received services for major depressive disorder per 10,000 enrollees, which declined by 6.44 weekly beneficiaries per 10,000 enrollees. Rates also declined for anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, adjustment disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Simultaneously, there was a 16- to 20-fold increase in telehealth service utilization. The telehealth service utilization rate of increase was lowest for bipolar disorder and highest for anxiety disorders. During this period, there was an overall increase in care for major depressive disorder, anxiety, and adjustment disorders when combining in-person and telehealth services.

“It will be important to observe whether and to what extent these trends continue to shift, particularly if and when impermanent legislation to support telemental health services expires or is withdrawn,” the authors write.

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