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Health & Science

Remote Therapy Study Looks At Rural Mental Health Access, Treatment -- From Home

Online delivery of medical care can occur from a home computer.
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Researchers have found that 80 percent of rural counties don't have access to a behavioral health specialist.

Residents of rural areas have lower access to mental health providers but equal or higher need. Research has found that 80 percent of rural counties are without access to a behavioral health specialist. The Appalachian Mind Health Initiative aims to fill this gap.

The program is a West Virginia University-based study that involves testing electronic Cognitive Behavior Therapy as a depression treatment option for those living in rural communities. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a proven method that helps individuals create strategies to cope with depression symptoms.

Robert Bossarte, associate professor of behavioral medicine and psychiatry at WVU, says the study will also help clinicians provide more accessible treatment options. The program is helping to determine who might be a good candidate based on preferences like treatment types, history, medical conditions, and familiarity with technology.

“One of our larger goals in this study is to not only understand in the larger sense whether eCBT works -- we’re sure eCBT does work as delivered in rural settings — but also who might be a good candidate given their preferences… so that clinicians working in the field, and frontline clinicians, can have an easy to use algorithm that will help make decisions about what sort of treatment option to offer to people when they’re newly diagnosed with depression in their office.”

He and the rest of the team think remote therapy is ideal for rural areas. In regions like southern West Virginia, attending therapy away from home can be difficult. Scarcity of resources, additional expenses, and general inconvenience are all factors.

Clinical Research Coordinator Tyler Webb says the Appalachian Mind Health Initiative addresses this.

“Should this actually be successful and we find this to work with this particular population, this would be something that we can offer people in the comfort of their own homes,” Webb said. “They don’t have to worry about going to an office, they don’t have to worry about transportation, gas prices, they don’t have to worry about behavioral health coverage, insurance, deductibles, things like that.”

Bossarte and his team think the study is something the state can be proud of, and is something that can potentially be useful in other rural areas around the country.

“This is uniquely a West Virginian study. This study is being conducted among residents of West Virginia and people who access primary care in West Virginia," he said. "And I think it’s an opportunity for West Virginia and West Virginians to provide leadership to the rest of the nation and provide a service to other residents of rural areas.”

Adults living in West Virginia or Kentucky beginning treatment for depression are eligible to participate in the study, with participants completing 10 study assessments over the course of the year, depending on what form of treatment they are given. The results will provide information on who electronic CBT can help, with participants able to receive up to $290.

To participate, visit amhi-home.org or contact the AMHI Study Number at 1-866-984-AMHI (2644).


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