Mental Health Service User and Worker Experiences of Psychosocial Support via Telehealth Through the COVID-19 Pandemic: Qualitative Study
journal contributionposted on 11.10.2021, 05:37 by A Venville, S O'Connor, H Roeschlein, Priscilla Ennals, G McLoughlan, N Thomas
Background: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw telehealth rapidly become the primary way to receive mental health care. International research has validated many of the benefits and challenges of telehealth known beforehand for specific population groups. However, if telehealth is to assume prominence in future mental health service delivery, greater understanding of its capacity to be used to provide psychosocial support to people with complex and enduring mental health conditions is needed. Objective: We focused on an Australian community-managed provider of psychosocial intervention and support. We aimed to understand service user and worker experiences of psychosocial support via telehealth throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: This study was jointly developed and conducted by people with lived experience of mental ill health or distress, mental health service providers, and university-based researchers. Semistructured interviews were conducted between August and November 2020 and explored participant experiences of receiving or providing psychosocial support via telehealth, including telephone, text, and videoconferencing. Qualitative data were analyzed thematically; quantitative data were collated and analyzed using descriptive statistics. Results: Service users (n=20) and workers (n=8) completed individual interviews via telephone or videoconferencing platform. Service users received psychosocial support services by telephone (12/20, 60%), by videoconferencing (6/20, 30%), and by both telephone and videoconferencing (2/20, 10%). Of note, 55% (11/20) of service user participants stated a future preference for in-person psychosocial support services, 30% (6/20) preferred to receive a mixture of in-person and telehealth, and 15% (3/20) elected telehealth only. Two meta-themes emerged as integral to worker and service user experience of telehealth during the pandemic: (1) creating safety and comfort and (2) a whole new way of working. The first meta-theme comprises subthemes relating to a sense of safety and comfort while using telehealth; including trusting in the relationship and having and exercising choice and control. The second meta-theme contains subthemes reflecting key challenges and opportunities associated with the shift from in-person psychosocial support to telehealth. Conclusions: Overall, our findings highlighted that most service users experienced telehealth positively, but this was dependent on them continuing to get the support they needed in a way that was safe and comfortable. While access difficulties of a subgroup of service users should not be ignored, most service users and workers were able to adapt to telehealth by focusing on maintaining the relationship and using choice and flexibility to maintain service delivery. Although most research participants expressed a preference for a return to in-person psychosocial support or hybrid in-person and telehealth models, there was a general recognition that intentional use of telehealth could contribute to flexible and responsive service delivery. Challenges to telehealth provision of psychosocial support identified in this study are yet to be fully understood.