Telehealth During COVID-19: Suicide Prevention and American Indian Communities in Montana

Telemed J E Health. 2021 Jun 3. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2021.0104. Online ahead of print.


Background: Public health measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, may increase the risk for suicide among American Indians due to decreased social connectedness that is crucial to wellbeing. Telehealth represents a potential solution, but barriers to effective suicide prevention may exist. Materials and Methods: In collaboration with Tribal and Urban Indian Health Center providers, this study measured suicide prevention practices during COVID-19. A 44-item Likert-type, web-based survey was distributed to Montana-based professionals who directly provide suicide prevention services to American Indians at risk for suicide. Descriptive statistics were calculated for survey items, and MannWhitney U tests examined the differences in telehealth use, training, skills among Montana geographic areas, and barriers between providers and their clients/patients. Results: Among the 80 respondents, two-thirds agreed or strongly agreed that American Indians experienced greater social disconnection since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Almost 98% agreed that telehealth was needed, and 93% were willing to use telehealth for suicide prevention services. Among current users, 75% agreed telehealth was effective for suicide prevention. Over one-third of respondents reported using telehealth for the first time during COVID-19 pandemic, and 30% use telehealth at least “usually” since the COVID-19 pandemic began, up from 6.3%. Compared with their own experiences, providers perceive their American Indian client/patients as experiencing greater barriers to telehealth. Discussion: Telehealth was increasingly utilized for suicide prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic. Opportunities to improve telehealth access should be explored, including investments in telehealth technologies for American Indians at risk for suicide.

PMID:34085870 | DOI:10.1089/tmj.2021.0104