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Editor's e-Note
Veterans’ health care has been in the news recently due to leadership changes, and in that process many people have become aware that the VA is the largest integrated health care system in the United States. It is often criticized for its long waits and inefficient service delivery, but one of the areas where they are making great strides is in breaking down barriers to care for veterans with mental illness. Making mental health treatment easier and more accessible has been one of goals of VA telemental health services and this month’s E-News Exclusive describes the advancements being made.

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— Marianne Mallon, editor
e-News Exclusive
VA Telehealth Services — Reducing Health Care Disparities for Veterans With Mental Health Challenges
By Anna Panzo, MSW, LCSW

In the 21st century, constant improvements in technology have reshaped the provision of mental health supports. With a plethora of apps, YouTube videos, and websites, there are a wide variety of self-help services and resources available to anyone with a smartphone or an internet connection. Nevertheless, these resources cannot replace the benefits of clinical treatment. Unfortunately, those with a mental health diagnosis often face multiple barriers to obtaining that treatment. Contributing factors preventing them from seeking mental health care can include social stigma, transportation or distance, and family responsibilities. Furthermore, symptoms caused by the diagnosis can also present a challenge—people with high anxiety, for example, could struggle to leave their home.

The VA has leveraged 21st century technological advances to assist in overcoming treatment barriers and decreasing disparities in mental health care provision for veterans. VA medical centers utilize telehealth video-to-home (VTH) services to provide care to veterans with mental health diagnoses. Through the use of this technology, VA clinicians are able to conduct at-home therapy and evaluation sessions with veterans.

Breaking Down Barriers
Jan Lindsay, PhD, director for TeleBehavioral Health at the South Central Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center, a licensed psychologist at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center, and a research health scientist at the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness, and Safety, is on the frontier of telehealth implementation programming and research at the VA. Lindsay is based out of the VA Medical Center in Houston, which currently is a national leader in the provision of telehealth services. She is passionate about decreasing access disparities for veterans. “Roughly half of veterans who need mental health treatment don’t access care, and those who do access mental health care do not receive an adequate dose,” Lindsay says. Her work at the VA has helped to provide increased access to mental health care for veterans who are in crucial need of that support.

Full Story »
Tech & Tools
Study Suggests Smartphones May Be Digital Security Blankets in Stressful Social Situations

Not only can your smartphone serve as your wallet, watch, and map, but it can also be your digital security blanket. In a new study led by the University of California, Irvine, researchers found that when people are in awkward social situations, having their phones with them offers comfort and helps relieve feelings of isolation.

“Our results suggest that the mere presence of a phone, not necessarily actually using it, can buffer against the negative experience and effects of social exclusion,” says lead author John Hunter, a University of California, Irvine PhD candidate in psychology and social behavior. “It could be that possessing your phone is a reminder of your support system, symbolically and literally allowing you to connect with others outside your immediate surroundings.”

Diminishment of the quality and extent of in-person interactions is usually considered a negative byproduct of technology use. It’s a common occurrence: a group of people sitting together but not talking to each other because they are all looking at their phones. However, the ability to divert one’s focus in order to temporarily escape an uncomfortable situation can be beneficial.

“Phones serve as symbols of an individual’s larger personal network,” Hunter says. “When people can shift their attention away from environmental stressors toward the symbolic connections offered by their phones, it may mitigate feelings of isolation and can provide a sense of security.”

Read more »
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