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Rural Health Information Hub

Telehealth for Suicide Prevention

Telehealth leverages technology to deliver medical care at a distance. Teletherapy, online support groups, and mobile apps are all examples of telehealth services used for suicide prevention and to treat mental health conditions.

Telehealth can reduce or eliminate several barriers to mental healthcare faced by residents of rural areas, including limited access to mental health providers, long travel distances to access services in person, and heightened stigma around mental health. It can be particularly effective with youth in rural areas who lack access to suicide prevention resources. Telehealth may help increase access to services and improve appointment attendance.

More information on implementing a rural telehealth program is available in the Rural Telehealth Toolkit.

Implementation Considerations

Rural programs exploring the use of telehealth for suicide prevention, either as an entirely new program or an adaptation of existing services to an online platform, should consider several factors and barriers. Clinicians working with patients who struggle with suicidal thoughts should develop safety plans and establish crisis protocols to ensure patients stay safe. Because each rural community is unique, programs should involve local organizations and community members in program planning and development. This will help ensure programs are acceptable to patients, particularly specific patient populations such as veterans and tribal populations.

While telehealth has brought mental health and suicide prevention services to hard-to-reach residents of rural areas, there are still barriers to accessing these resources. Many rural areas do not have the broadband internet required to access web-based services. Additionally, residents may not be able to afford telehealth services that are not eligible for reimbursement. These barriers should be considered when developing telehealth programs.

Resources to Learn More

Building Telehealth Capacity
Provides links to trainings, events, and other resources on evidence-based practices for mental health services delivered through telehealth.
Organization(s): Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network (MHTTC)

Preventing Suicide in Rural America
Provides an overview of the factors that increase the risk of suicide in populations in rural areas and summarizes policy options addressing suicide prevention. Describes three rural suicide prevention case studies including a telemental health program for veterans.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Date: 4/2018