Content reviewed and updated: 01/27/21
How to Get Help From an Online Mental Health Provider
Getting treatment for a mental health condition can feel overwhelming. You might wince at the thought of having to step outside your house for an appointment with your therapist. Maybe you wish there was a way to quell your anxiety about going out and getting the medication you need. Perhaps you do not want to watch precious minutes tick away as you drive to and from your pharmacy or provider’s office.
Thanks to telehealth, it is easier than ever before to avoid obstacles like these. You can now get help online for mental health conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
Nowadays, it is quick and simple to set up a video consultation and get treatment for mental health conditions. With the help of technology, a healthcare provider can evaluate your symptoms and provide guidance on the best treatment options for you, all in a virtual space. Treatment may come in the form of psychotherapy or medication, which can be prescribed virtually and even shipped to your home.
Continue reading to learn more about telehealth for mental health conditions and how to get help from an online mental health provider.
Who can provide online mental health treatment?
While searching for online mental health services, you might come across psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs).
A psychiatrist you see online can provide the same services as a psychiatrist you see in person. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who focuses on diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. Unlike psychologists, who mainly specialize in psychotherapy, psychiatrists can prescribe medications.
You can also get treated by other online mental health providers, such as PMHNPs. As an advanced nurse practitioner, a PMHNP can conduct mental health assessments and prescribe treatments or medications for those with mental health disorders. PMHNPs go through rigorous training and licensing processes to be able to provide psychiatric care.
Some online mental health platforms include teams of specialized PMHNPs and psychiatric physician assistants. These teams may work with supervising psychiatrists and physicians to provide the best patient care possible. A collaborative treatment effort from mental health providers is often the best way to ensure someone gets high-quality care.
Psychiatrists vs. psychologists vs. PMHNPs
Both psychiatrists and psychologists are trained professionals who can diagnose and treat those with mental health conditions either online or in person. However, there are some important differences between them.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who undergoes extensive training to diagnose and treat psychiatric conditions. A psychiatrist typically has either an MD or DO degree. Psychiatrists are qualified to provide talk therapy, and they can also prescribe medications as treatment.
In contrast, a psychologist typically has a PhD or PsyD degree. Psychologists focus on various forms of talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy, to treat mental health conditions. Psychologists do not prescribe medications.
Depending on the circumstances, psychiatrists and psychologists may work together or refer their patients to one another.
There are also PMHNPs. To become a PMHNP, a person must first become a registered nurse, then apply to a master’s or doctoral PMHNP program. As a licensed advanced nurse practitioner, a PMHNP can treat patients with both prescription medications and psychotherapy options. Depending on the state in which they practice, and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s drug schedules, PMHNPs can prescribe most medications used to treat mental health conditions, similar to psychiatrists.
What conditions can an online mental health provider treat?
An online psychiatrist or other mental health provider can treat almost any mental health condition that would be treated in person, including:
- Panic disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance abuse
- Cognitive disorders, such as dementia
- Eating disorders, such as bulimia
Online vs. in-person treatment
Many people find that online treatment for mental health conditions is convenient. For instance, there may be less worry about having to set aside an hour just to travel to an appointment since the same type of care received in person can instead be accessed virtually, from the comfort of home. In turn, this convenience can mean extra savings on things like gas, long-term car maintenance, and public transportation fees.
Someone with a busy schedule can take advantage of the time saved by hustling this extra hour on a work project or by spending more time with loved ones. These time savings may seem miniscule by themselves, but they add up over time.
One aspect specific to getting in-person mental health treatment is finding an available provider in your area. This can be a limitation, especially if there is a small pool of providers to choose from. You might be faced with a tough decision. For example, do you see a low-rated provider located near you, or do you travel a far distance to see someone you really connect with? With online care, you are less limited by your geographic location. You can see any provider you prefer, as long as they are licensed in your state.
Not only is online mental health treatment convenient, but it is also effective. Several studies have shown the effectiveness of online vs. in-person mental healthcare. One systematic review found that online mental healthcare services are associated with better medication adherence and greater symptom reduction than in-person mental healthcare services.
With an online platform like Ahead, you get access to a highly specialized group of providers. These providers have undergone standard training protocols, so you can be confident that you are getting consistent high-quality care.
Getting help from an online mental health provider
The process of getting care from an online psychiatrist or other mental health provider is similar to that of getting in-person care. You will generally be able to schedule an appointment through an online platform. Typically, you will be asked to complete a questionnaire, especially if you are scheduling your first visit. During your first visit, you will meet with your provider either through a video or phone call, and after evaluating your medical history and symptoms, your provider will work with you to select the best treatment option, whether that includes psychotherapy, medication, or both. Follow-up visits will be scheduled according to your customized treatment plan.
Online psychiatrists and PMHNPs can prescribe most medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You may receive up to a 90-day supply of medication depending on the treatment plan you discussed with your provider. If you have already been prescribed a medication from a previous provider, then you may be able to get refills from your online provider.
Privacy and confidentiality
Information transmitted online is never 100% secure, and in today’s digital world, it is exceedingly important to consider privacy and confidentiality. With the increasing prominence and use of telehealth services, patients should be aware of how healthcare professionals are handling their information. It is OK to ask your provider how your personal information is being used and protected. Licensed healthcare providers, whether they treat patients in person or online, must follow HIPAA regulations in order to keep patient health information secure. Providers must also follow federal and state laws regarding the protection of sensitive data. Patients may be able to withhold some personal information if they are seeking talk therapy online, but if medication is being prescribed online, then a provider will need access to personal patient information.
Get online mental health treatment today
Providers at Ahead are available to address any questions or concerns you may have regarding mental health management. You can message your Ahead provider and care team online as needed. You can also get text reminders for prescription refills to ensure you always have your medication when you need it.