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Rural telepsychiatry helps rural residents bypass stigma

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Rural telepsychiatry helps rural residents bypass stigma

Picture of Lana Straub

In places were rural residents are cautious approaching a psychiatrist, they may find help from their local family physician. Mental health professionals are combating this stigma by teaming up trusted family physicians with specialists through telemedicine.

KXWT-West Texas Public Radio
Thursday, June 25, 2015

If you live in a small town in rural Texas, it might be hard to keep secrets. Recent studies show that the stigma associated with going to a doctor for mental health may be keeping potential patients at home. For West Texas Public Radio, Lana Straub reports.

Living in a small town has its benefits. Everybody knows everybody. Despite wider acceptance, there’s still a stigma for some who seek help for mental illness. And this is more pronounced in rural communities.

In places were rural residents are cautious approaching a psychiatrist, they may find help from their local family physician. Mental health professionals are combating this stigma by teaming up trusted family physicians with specialists through telemedicine. It ranges from telephone consultations to virtual face-to-face connections through television or tablet screens.

DR. ALAN PODAWILTZ: “What we are doing is a virtual, which means we will provide guidance to any primary care doctor that is in a rural setting that needs to have some mental health information.” 

Doctor Alan Podawiltz is the chairman for psychiatry and behavioral health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. His department focuses on studying innovations in mental health medicine.

DR. ALAN PODAWILTZ “Now when you do telepsychiatry or tele-behavorial health, they actually make an appointment and the patient shows up at that community center, with the provider, the psychiatrist on the other end at the right time and they actually then have a meeting and a connection at that time.

Podawiltz and his colleagues hope that strategies such as these will help to remove the stigma of mental health. He also hopes that it will give confidence to rural patients to choose from a wider range of resources to get the help they need.

For West Texas Public Radio, I’m Lana Straub.