Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a real and serious problem for veterans returning from service. It is estimated that 11-20% of veterans experience PTSD, and many do not have access to care when returning to civilian life.
Long-distance travel, as well as the stigmas that so often accompany mental health issues, can be major barriers for those seeking help. As soldiers transition from active duty to once again resuming civilian life, PTSD can be an immense obstacle to overcome.
With such an overwhelming number of veterans experiencing PTSD, it may be surprising that many do not feel able to seek help. As many mental health providers are aware, mental health issues far too often are associated with unhelpful stereotypes that prevent patients from seeking care. A study on PTSD and associated stigma found that many combat veterans blame themselves for having PTSD. These feelings of shame cause many to not seek out treatment in an effort to avoid both internal and external blame.
These fears, coupled with a lack of access to care, leave many patients feeling alone and abandoned. Sadly, veterans suffering from PTSD are 5.3 times more likely to commit suicide. Telepsychiatry provides an easy and accessible way for veterans to access the care they need when they need it. By providing care early on and giving patients the option to receive care in the comfort of their own home, telepsychiatry can help save lives.
Recognizing this, in 2018 the US Department of Veterans Affairs approved the use of telepsychiatry to help soldiers recover from PTSD. The passage of the Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act gives Veteran Affairs (VA) healthcare providers the ability to treat patients wherever they are, even allowing providers to bypass state telemedicine and licensing laws. The program initially began with the Telemedicine Outreach for PTSD (TOPS) program to give veterans living in rural areas more choice and access to mental health care.
Previous research supports the use of telepsychiatry for treating PTSD. A 2007 study found that clinical outcomes for veterans were similar for same-room treatment and telepsychiatry. In addition, both treatment groups stated that they had “strong satisfaction” with the program. Even attendance rates were found to be similar for both groups.
In 2016, before the VA provided access to telemedicine, 12% of veterans used telehealth services. That utilization led to a 31% decrease in veteran hospitalization and a 39% drop in acute psychiatric inpatient days.
All of this data shows that telepsychiatry has a considerable role to play in treating mental health issues in veterans. Further removing barriers to care could help increase treatment rates, get veterans access to care earlier, and hopefully reduce the stigma around PTSD. As of today, the TOP program is only offered at 12 VA-associated facilities.
There are many more veterans around the country who deserve the same care. Telepsychiatry has already been shown to be effective at providing relief when there is a shortage of specialists, and distance care is perfectly set up to help patients in remote areas. Telepsychiatry platforms, like MindCare, have trained mental health professionals who are ready to help veterans and many others with mental health issues.
The ease of use and far-reaching access telepsychiatry provides is an ideal fit for helping veterans and other patients with PTSD. With providers on call 24/7, patients always have access to professional care. Many patients with mental health issues, including PTSD, cannot wait weeks between appointments. When telepsychiatry is an option, these patients can avoid ER visits and lengthy in-patient stays because they have the means of getting the help they need, wherever they are, whenever they need it.