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Mental Health, the Pandemic, and Unmet Needs: How Can We Bridge the Gap?

While the pandemic has fundamentally shifted the way we think about physical health, it has also taken a significant toll on our mental health. It’s shed light on the seriousness of mental health conditions and the importance of checking in on those around us. But it has also highlighted the mental health-related needs that go unmet.

Unmet needs are something we’re passionate about understanding and resolving here at Egg Health, and for almost 20 years we’ve been striving to solve these need gaps, in both mental and physical health. Recent studies confirm that mental health conditions have increased significantly during the pandemic, with rates of depression in US adults tripling, rising from 8.5% prior to the pandemic to 27.8% during the spring of 2020. Another recent study indicates that rates of anxiety among young people nearly doubled during the early stages of the pandemic. And a CDC survey conducted in the summer of 2020 indicates that over 40% of respondents were dealing with mental health conditions related to the pandemic.

However unmet needs in the world of mental health unfortunately predate the pandemic. The American Psychological Association reported in 2016 that there were 11.8 million American adults who felt their needs for mental health services were not met, and many signs point to that number rising during the pandemic, due to many factors including school closures separating children from therapeutic resources and job losses making many unable to get access to the health insurance coverage and care they need. As Dr. Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the APA noted, “there’s always been more demand for services than there are mental health providers… what the pandemic has done is really laid bare that discrepancy.”

While it’s distressing that this population with unmet mental health care needs may be growing, organizations are starting to take notice and changes are beginning to being made. Many healthcare organizations are making the switch to telehealth, which has made connecting with necessary care more accessible for some. In the APA’s 2016 survey, 20% of those who weren’t able to receive care (roughly 2.4 million people) attributed this to time constraints, and with telehealth taking commuting and waiting rooms out of the equation, some have found it easier to access the care they need. Egg Health has worked with the American Medical Association to help patients and HCPs seamlessly integrate Telehealth into practice via the AMA Telehealth Playbook https://www.ama-assn.org/system/files/2020-04/ama-telehealth-playbook.pdf

Another potential source of hope arises from the many mental health startups that have been created and popularized during the pandemic. Many entrepreneurs and creative thinkers have been motivated by both the pandemic’s impact on mental health and a desire to fix inefficiencies and need gaps in healthcare industry. The New York Times recently profiled two such startups, Real Therapy and Two Chairs, both of which aim to simplify and personalize a mental health patient’s journey to care. App-based therapy platforms like BetterHelp and Talkspace are also striving to tackle another common barrier to access – cost – by providing more affordable (and convenient) options for those seeking therapeutic help.

Here at Egg we’re proud to do our part to address unmet needs and connect people with the care they deserve, and our recent work with the American Medical Association exemplifies this. Several months ago, our team was tasked with compiling resources for primary care providers that would allow them to better integrate behavioral health care for their patients into their practice. Today, stigmas, system fragmentation, and shortages of behavioral health resources, among other persistent barriers, can make it difficult for those in need of care to access it. Integrating behavioral health solutions into primary care is one of the most effective ways to close the gap between need and access and doing so allows many who couldn’t otherwise access care to address mental health conditions through a primary care provider. And the comprehensive guide we helped to create, and the complementary webinar series, is now in use to do just that. This project is just one example of ways that the Egg team strives to understand and resolve need gaps.

For organizations that want to follow suit in making mental health care more widely accessible and equitable, the key is to focus on the current barriers. Cost and ease of access are two key areas for improvement. While there are still many unmet needs, we’re hopeful that companies like us and those we partner with will continue to close need gaps and make necessary care more accessible.