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Rural Health Information Hub

Telehealth for Mental Health Services Model

Telehealth used to provide mental health services can sometimes be referred to as telemental health or telebehavioral health. Telehealth increases access to mental health services in rural areas by providing a means for mental health professionals to reach patients through technology. In a virtual environment, mental health providers can offer instant services to their patients such as evaluations and diagnoses, case consultations, treatments, and medication management.

Benefits of the telehealth model include:

  • Quick and easy referrals to a mental health provider
  • Ability to offer services to people with disabilities who may not be able to leave their homes
  • Ability to provide services to people for whom travel time and costs would limit their treatment options
  • Reductions in mental health stigma because people can receive care within their own homes

For more information on telehealth, including implementation considerations for mental health programs, see our Telehealth Toolkit and our Telehealth and Health Information Technology in Rural Healthcare Topic Guide.

Examples of Rural Telehealth Programs Providing Mental Health Services

  • The Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation (STAIR) is a 10-week training for female veterans from rural areas with military sexual trauma. It is a mental health program designed to reduce PTSD and depression symptoms and increase emotional regulation and social functioning. Program participants may participate in the web-version of STAIR known as webSTAIR with access to individual or group treatment via teleconferencing.

Implementation Considerations

To maximize the potential of the telehealth model, rural mental health programs should evaluate the availability of reliable broadband internet in their communities. Many rural Americans, especially people living on tribal lands, lack access to broadband internet.

Rural mental health programs should also be aware of patients' needs for at-home treatment. This includes determining whether patients have access to suitable devices (for example, a laptop, phone, or tablet) for participating in telehealth services. Rural programs may also want to assess the potential privacy risks associated with using telehealth services, and recognize that patients must have a private space at home to make the most of their telemental health treatment.

Offering information technology (IT) training to staff can also enhance the effectiveness of the telehealth model. Providers must understand how to use telehealth software, applications, and devices.

Medicaid reimbursement and licensure laws for telehealth vary by state and may have certain stipulations for mental health services.

Program Clearinghouse Examples

Resources to Learn More

Exploring Telemental Health Practice Before, During, and After the COVID-19 Pandemic
Discusses how the use of telemedicine, specifically telemental health, has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic and how providers plan to use it post pandemic.
Author(s): Zhu, D., Paige, S.R., Slone, H., et al.
Citation: Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 30(1), 72-78
Date: 3/2024

Telehealth for Behavioral Health Care
An overview of the types of behavioral telehealth services providers can implement within their practices. Discusses strategies for program development, billing, and preparing patients when using these services.
Organizations(s): Health Resources and Services Administration

Telehealth for Rural Diverse Populations: Telebehavioral and Cultural Competencies, Clinical Outcomes and Administrative Approaches
Discusses strategies for implementing culturally competent mental healthcare using telehealth in rural areas.
Author(s): Hilty, D. M., Gentry, M. T., McKean, A. J., et al.
Citation: mHealth, 6, 20
Date: 4/2020