Telehealth Can Provide a Solution for Millennials with Depression

Samara Rosenfeld
MARCH 04, 2019
virtual counseling

According to new research from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Health of America Report, one in five millennials diagnosed with major depression are not seeking any form of treatment. But telemedicine services could help.

Based on data available through the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index, it was found that of the nine million U.S. commercially insured members diagnosed with major depressive disorder, two million of those diagnosed in 2016 did not seek treatment. And one in three adults who have suffered at least one depressive episode are treatment-resistant.

Of the seven million who are seeking treatment, 47 percent use prescriptions only, 32 percent seek only therapy or doctor visits and 21 percent use both prescriptions and therapy or doctor visits.

Diagnoses among millennials (47 percent) — those born between the years 1981 and 1996 — and adolescents (63 percent) are increasing faster than any other age group.

The rising rates in younger age groups can have broader implications on future healthcare needs as they grow into later adulthood, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

“As more Americans, especially millennials and adolescents, are diagnosed with major depression each year, it’s increasingly important that there’s continued research and resources allocated towards new ways to treat depression,” said Vincent G. Nelson, M.D., vice president of medical affairs at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

But despite the need for access to more mental health professionals, there is still a significant gap in resources.

Telemedicine has a chance to play a role in the treatment of depression and other behavioral health issues.

Such platforms give patients the ability to conveniently and affordably access quality care through video counseling with board-certified physicians, Nelson wrote in a statement to Inside Digital Health™. These services are especially important for patients in rural areas who do not have easy access to specialists.

Nelson told us that Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield’s telehealth program, LiveHealth Online Psychology, offers members with mental illness a live video conference with a licensed therapist, seven days a week, for a similar cost to an in-person visit. The video counseling can be accessed via a phone, tablet or computer.

“Members who saw therapists via LiveHealth Online had fewer hospitalizations and ER visits compared with those who saw providers in urgent care, ERs or doctors’ offices,” Nelson wrote.

Overall, these platforms have a chance to improve patient outcomes and provide access to those in underserved populations.

Telehealth solutions can also help reduce costs, as individuals with treatment-resistant depression account for nearly $64 billion of the total cost of depression, according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Mass. Individuals with depression also have increased rates of chronic conditions, which can lead to more than twice the amount of healthcare costs than those without depression.

The data collected for The Health of America Report were pulled from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Index that contains more than 41 million commercially insured members per year from birth to age 64. The index identifies more than 200 health conditions and quantifies how they affect an American’s health, life-expectancy and well-being.

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