Telehealth – a useful way to access support

Given the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, when it comes to your mental health, it’s more important than ever for you to continue with regular professional support if you need it.

Fortunately, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicare-subsidised telehealth services have been significantly expanded.

For some time now, most mental health professionals have been supporting people via telehealth consultations by video conference or phone.

Even when restrictions ease and some therapists return to on-site appointments, telehealth is a safe and convenient way for you to access the support you need, whether you:

  • live in a remote area
  • have mobility considerations
  • are particularly at risk or vulnerable to COVID-19 
  • would simply prefer to limit trips away from home

If you’re used to visiting a mental health professional in person, adapting to telehealth consultations may present challenges at first, and an initial sense of reluctance is natural.

Here, clinical psychologist Olympia Athanasopoulos addresses some of those challenges.

Perceived barriers and potential benefits of telehealth consultations

You may not be used to the technology. Don’t worry – you’ll be guided through it.

For those less familiar with technology, moving to online consultations can be an obstacle.

If this is the case for you, Athanasopoulos encourages you to discuss it with your therapist. They'll be able to demystify the process and provide guidance to help you feel at ease.

Change can feel daunting. Try to focus on what’s familiar.

Athanasopoulos says it’s important to remember that while the method of consultation may be different, the person you’re consulting is the same.

Give it some time and trust that your mental health professional has your best interests at heart – whether you’re meeting face-to-face or not.

It’s natural to feel uncertain about letting your therapist into your (virtual) home.

You may feel unsettled or possibly even anxious about letting a mental health professional into your home environment. This is natural and understandable, but there are ways around it.

To help people get the most out of their telehealth consultations, Athanasopoulos encourages her clients “to find a quiet, private place and to minimise any distractions such as eating or responding to other calls.”

“Sometimes people prefer to take a walk or sit outside for privacy. The key though is that each consultation is tailored to meet the needs and circumstance of the individual,” she says.

You might feel your concerns aren’t worth seeking support for. They are.

If you feel you should try to ‘self-manage’ during this time for any reason, Athanasopoulos strongly encourages you to first talk this through with your GP or mental health professional.

Because “continuing to reach out to your usual support networks is absolutely vital for your mental wellbeing”.

Whether in-person or via telehealth, they are likely to be available as usual, and ready to help.

Consider the potential positives.

Athanasopoulos points out that, when using telehealth services, people “don’t need to leave their home, face a new service or catch public transport. Sometimes these can be barriers to accessing help.”

There's also the possibility that you’ll be able to talk more openly.

“My experience so far has been that people are prepared to reveal information about themselves faster or open up more, possibly due to the physical protection of being on a screen,” she says.

Seeing telehealth as an addition to the communication ‘toolkit’.

Seeing a mental health professional from your own home via telehealth may provide a sense of normality and a humanising touch.

And while the technology may not always be perfect, it can make a valuable difference during these uncertain times.

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