covid mental healthOn October 5, 2020, an Executive Order was signed into law to support the COVID mental health, behavioral health and substance use needs of the American public, both in-person and via telehealth.  As discussed in the Telebehavioral Health Institute’s previous article outlining evidence-based approaches to group therapy via telehealth, the excerpts below describe the need for the order in support of COVID mental health, as well as specific sections that directly relate to telehealth.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government has dedicated billions of dollars and thousands of hours in resources to help Americans, including approximately $425 million in emergency funds to address mental and substance use disorders through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  The pandemic has also exacerbated mental- and behavioral-health conditions as a result of stress from prolonged lockdown orders, lost employment, and social isolation.  Survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that during the last week of June, 40.9 percent of Americans struggled with mental-health or substance-abuse issues and 10.7 percent reported seriously considering suicide.  We must enhance the ability of the Federal Government, as well as its State, local, and Tribal partners, to appropriately address these ongoing mental- and behavioral-health concerns.

Sections of direct relevance to telehealth include these:

Sec2.  Policy.  It is the policy of the United States to prevent suicides, drug-related deaths, and poor behavioral-health outcomes, particularly those that are induced or made worse by prolonged State and local COVID-19 shutdown orders.  I am therefore issuing a national call to action to:

(i)   providing crisis-intervention services to treat those in immediate life-threatening situations; and

(ii)  increasing the availability of and access to quality continuing care following initial crisis resolution to improve behavioral-health outcomes;

(b)  Permit and encourage safe in-person mentorship programs; support-group participation; and attendance at communal facilities, including schools, civic centers, and houses of worship;

(c)  Increase the availability of telehealth and online mental-health and substance-use tools and services; and

(d)  Marshal public and private resources to address deteriorating mental health, such as factors that contribute to prolonged unemployment and social isolation.

Sec5.  Grant Funding for States and Organizations that Permit In-Person Treatment and Recovery Support Activities for Mental and Behavioral Health.  The heads of agencies, in consultation with the Director of OMB, shall take steps to encourage grantees to consider adopting policies…..including:

(i)    Safe in-person and telehealth participation in support groups for people in recovery from substance use disorders, mental-health issues, or other ailments that benefit from communal support; and peer-to-peer services that support underserved communities;

The entire Executive Order can be found here.