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A Virtual Shoulder to Lean On Featured

A Virtual Shoulder to Lean On

By Author: Suzanne Nguyen In Business

2020 has been a trying time for our mental health globally. Social unrest, a global pandemic and endless disruptions to everyday life have challenged us and pushed many to their limits. This kind of environment is bound to take a toll on mental health. And the numbers don’t lie – the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration reported that in April, texts to the federal government’s disaster distress hotline increased by a whopping 1000 percent.

In short, the world is collectively hurting and people who were already struggling with depression or anxiety (i.e. most of us) are now also managing isolation, social distancing and a general feeling of uncertainty about what has become our “new normal.”

Now more than ever, we need technology to “hold us” when an impromptu visit with a friend or therapist isn’t possible. Powered by shared context, interactivity at scale and ubiquity, Real-Time Engagement technology can step in and allow us to “hug” one another and access care, no matter what corner of the globe we exist in.

Destigmatizing Mental Health Treatment

Even when mental health resources are right in front of us, it can be hard to take the first step towards seeking help because of existing stigmas. Sitting in a therapist’s chair can feel like the most intimidating thing in the world, and just the thought of opening up in group therapy can be anxiety-inducing. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, afraid and embarrassed, why would you want to leave the safety and security of your home to sit in a public waiting room?

The recent widespread adoption of remote therapy has been a game-changer. Talkspace, a leading mobile therapy provider, saw a 90 percent increase in usage year-over-year since mid-March through May this year.

This jump speaks volumes. For starters, there is something attractive about being able to put on comfy clothes, curl up on the couch and talk to a therapist in the comfort of our own homes. Although difficult to quantify, it’s hard not to believe platforms like Talkspace have provided a vital lifeline, helped patients sidestep mental breakdowns and saved lives.

Cost Shouldn’t Be an Obstacle

When many of us think of therapy, a plush, private office comes to mind. We picture patients reclining on leather couches in an ultra-intimate setting. If this sounds expensive, it’s because it typically is.

According to the Healthcare Bluebook, a website that uses national payment data to estimate healthcare costs, a “fair price” for an in-person, 45-minute psychotherapy appointment clocks in at $180. Not many patients can justify this, so do we simply let patients with financial limitations slip through the cracks?

For those on a budget, turning to teletherapy is a more cost-effective option. For example, Talkspace operates on a subscription model. “Our goal is to provide care to as many people as possible,” said Renée Daley, senior clinical program manager of Talkspace. For $260 per month, patients can access unlimited text, video and audio messaging with a therapist who will respond five days a week. That’s right, a therapist essentially sits right in your pocket.

Community is Care, Too

But what about individuals who are simply seeking engagement and support communities online? Online support communities for diverse groups, like trauma survivors, can provide mental health support in informal channels more effectively with real-time engagement.

“Technology is the bridge here,” says Melissa Barker, CEO and co-founder of The Phoenix Project, a digital platform for trauma survivors. The Phoenix Project provides a completely free support network built on the premise that community is self-care. The Phoenix Project offers video group sessions, virtual yoga and meditation and many other wellness events to support its users.

On Real-Time Engagement networks created by groups like The Phoenix Project, people who may have never crossed paths before have the chance to become life-long friends and mutual supporters. On top of this, victims and survivors living in remote locations or alongside abusers can more easily access digital resources in the form of online support groups.

A Future of Support

At Agora, we understand the mental health of people worldwide is strained right now. Our team is here to support the surge in telehealth and teletherapy to connect people with the resources they need. Together we can expand the scope of care to reach beyond the therapist’s office or support group chair. Instead, we can make mental health care truly ubiquitous and safely meet each other online, build communities that cross borders and keep each other well.

If you’re interested in learning more about Agora’s partnership with Talkspace and The Phoenix Project, watch my recent V-Chat with Renée Daley and Melissa Barker.

Join us for the next V-Chat@RTE episode, Watch Party: Fad or Future? on Aug 26, 2020. We’ll be chatting with Scener and LiveLike about how watch parties are changing the landscape of virtual entertainment.

Since meeting friends at the theater or throwing a sports party aren’t options during the pandemic, we’ve seen watch parties emerge as a popular form of group entertainment—and companies are prepared to fill this exploding niche. Scener’s Virtual Theater lets you host watch parties where you can enjoy movies with your friends, and LiveLike combines live sports streaming with social engagement in an immersive Virtual Sports Stadium experience. Hope to see you there!