The holidays may be over, but that doesn’t mean the stress of it all has disappeared. Any lingering anxiety may become worse during the winter, a time when we tend to stay indoors more often. The cooler temperatures or lack of sunshine can also darken our moods, causing seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. In fact, the cold weather months can cause people to experience increased mental health issues.
Studies show that people conduct more internet searches in the winter than in the summer for information on all types of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression and eating disorders. The good news is that you may not need to leave the comfort of your couch to get the help you need. It can be as easy as using your computer or smartphone.
Virtual appointments for therapy and psychiatry services are becoming more common among mental health care providers. These online appointments can make it easier for people to access mental health care when they need it without having to step outside and endure the cold.
What is a virtual visit?
A virtual visit is a real-time video session with a care provider. Instead of going to a therapist’s office, you can use video technology to connect with a mental health professional. Virtual visits for behavioral health use a secure connection to help protect your privacy and keep your personal information safe. Many people may wonder whether a virtual visit is as effective as going to an office, but research indicates that virtual care delivers health outcomes that are similar to in-person care.
How does a behavioral health virtual visit work?
A virtual visit is just as easy as logging onto social media or streaming a TV show.
1. Choose a care provider: Look through your provider options and find one who matches your interests and needs. You may prefer a particular gender, expertise or background. Consider an in-network provider to save on cost.
2. Find a convenient time: A virtual visit can fit easily into your day. It doesn’t require travel time, child care or extra time off from your job. Most appointments last about an hour. Some care providers offer morning, evening or weekend hours.
3. Choose your location: Pick a quiet, private place where you’re most comfortable. You might choose your sofa, your bedroom or an office with a door. All you need is your laptop with a webcam or your smartphone and a reliable internet connection.
4. Log on: A few minutes before your appointment, check your webcam and speakers, and sign onto the app or website. Your care provider will join you in the video conversation from a private office.
5. Say hello: You and the care provider can see and hear each other. You both will be able to see each other’s gestures and body language, which can help enrich the conversation – but if you are nervous or uncomfortable, let him or her know. They will understand and try to help ease your worries.
6. Build rapport: Mental health care providers are professional and nonjudgmental. They have training to help guide the conversation. During your first visit, you’ll decide together what to discuss and set goals for your treatment.
Who can benefit from a behavioral health virtual visit?
Virtual visits can provide a first-time assessment or ongoing counseling for people with depression, grief, anxiety or other mental health conditions. Some care providers offer support for substance-use recovery. Many care providers can prescribe medications and manage prescriptions via virtual visits.
Health plans cover most behavioral health virtual visits the same as an in-person visit. Many care providers offer both in-person and virtual visits, and you may be able to see the same care provider with either type of visit.
To learn more about your health plan’s coverage for virtual visits, check your policy or call your plan customer service representative.