Gen Z won’t leave therapists "on read”—text-based therapy is preferred

The news: The HHS doled out $10.7 million in funding to the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program, which will use the cash to provide telehealth-related training and technical assistance to US providers to diagnose and treat kids and teens with mental health conditions.

Why this matters: The pandemic threw gasoline on the pediatric mental health fire—mental health services and therapy services only became more inaccessible for kids.

Emergency departments around the US are reporting an influx of pediatric mental health patients, but there simply aren't enough providers to deliver sufficient care.

  • States like Arizona and Florida are addressing the pandemic-induced mental health provider shortage by still allowing docs from neighboring states to deliver virtual care.
  • However, there’s no guarantee these relaxed regulations will outlast the pandemic, so it could be a temporary bandaid to a growing problem.
  • Research reveals availability of child psychiatrists pre-pandemic was already scarce, considering only 17% of patients could nab a new appointment—and the chances were even lower for children on Medicaid.

Plus, some pediatricians say they lack training on how to treat kids’ mental health concerns since they’re more used to treating conditions like ear infections, per STAT. To this end, funding for broader pediatric mental health training from the HHS can help pediatricians become more well-versed in treating conditions like depression and anxiety.

What’s next? Boosting pediatric telemental health access will likely become a priority this year for not only the US gov’t, but also telehealth vendors.

In addition to the HHS’ moves to fund pediatric virtual care, some telehealth vendors have recognized the largely untapped market opportunity for pediatric mental health.

  • This week, telehealth vendor Brightline announced it’s expanding its virtual health platform to all 50 states to address the shortage of mental health providers.
  • This news arrives a few months after Walmart acquired virtual care provider MeMD, which boasts teletherapy for kids ages 10-17 on its website.

An untapped opportunity: Teens often prefer communicating via texting rather than face-to-face—which means focusing on text-based therapy is a smart bet for telehealth vendors that want to boost engagement with younger patients.

Gen Zers (kids and teens 6+) are digital natives—and texting can create a more meaningful connection than video visits alone.

  • About 83% of US teens used texting to stay connected with family and friends during the pandemic, while 72% used phone calls and other forms of communication, per an April 2020 study by CommonSense Media.
  • Text-based therapy can serve as a tool to build and retain trust, since it can allow for more frequent touch points and a way to talk about topics they may feel anxious discussing over the phone.

A few telehealth vendors already offer text-based therapy for kids, but we could see giants like Teladoc hop on the bandwagon given early success with the format.

  • For example, 98point6 offers text-based care for mental health conditions, which teens can access through their parents’ employer-sponsored insurance.
  • And Talkspace offers teens aged 13-17 a range of communication choices, including text-based messaging, audio, or video.
  • And it appears their text-based approaches have paid off: Talkspace claims that in its latest study, 93% of participants reported improvement on their mental health conditions within 2 months or more, for instance.