By MATTHEW PERRONE AP Health Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The coronavirus pandemic is driving up stress levels for many Americans — and new business for online therapy companies.
More than 4 in 10 U.S. adults say worries tied to the outbreak are impacting their mental health, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Not surprisingly, companies that offer online therapy are seeing increased demand for video and text-based consultations.
Dr. Neil Leibowitz, chief medical officer of Talkspace, spoke with The Associated Press about what the coronavirus may mean for the present and future of teletherapy. The conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Q: How is the outbreak affecting Talkspace’s business?
A: “Unfortunately or fortunately, we’re seeing significant growth, as high as 65% to 70% in the last month of new clients coming into treatment. And we’re seeing growth coming from every aspect of people seeking help. We’re seeing people with anxiety about coronavirus or things related to friends and family and keeping them safe. A lot of people are coming in with anxiety related to their economic circumstances. And then what’s been popping up more and more as we get deeper into social distancing and stay at home orders has been couples seeking counseling or help with relationships.
Q: Do you expect these people to become long-term users?
A: “For a lot of people going through this, what they need is a brief intervention to help them adjust. They’ll need help acclimating with some issues that they’re maybe having with their families. So there’s going to be a subset of people who cycle through therapy and a couple weeks or two months is really what meets their needs. And that’s OK. There are other people for whom this will be a significant episode and launch them into long-term treatment. And the average person coming to us stays for somewhere between three and six months. And we don’t expect it to be significantly different coming through this current situation.
Q: Public and private insurers have been trying to promote broader use of telemedicine for years. What does this crisis mean for that effort?
A: “I think a lot of us in the virtual and the telehealth space have been trying to reach the inflection point. In a way, reaching it this way is a little less satisfying because there’s so many people going through pain. But sometimes it may take an event for people to try something new because we’re so stuck in our patterns. It seems so normal to go to an office and seek treatment. And we don’t really think about, ‘Well, why are we leaving work to do this? Why are we sitting four hours to go to an appointment when I can just go on a screen or I can message at any time when I have a 5-minute break?’ So I think that this could be that inflection point for a lot of people where they really see this is something that is positively changing how they access their care.