When most people think of therapy, they’re thinking of talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy. Talk therapy is designed to improve a patient’s mental health with the aid of a licensed therapist who, like the name implies, talks the patient through whatever issues are plaguing them.
Talk therapy is expensive. And though research shows it is effective, the high cost leaves some people without access to mental health care that could help them with a variety of mental health issues. A cheaper alternative is available, however – and some may be surprised by what it is.
Chatlines – kind of like chatrooms that operate over phone lines – can connect people with other calls in their home cities, or from around the world. And though chatlines have traditionally been used as a form of recreation, there is evidence chatlines could provide tangible mental health benefits.
Although chatlines show real promise for alleviating certain mental health conditions, it’s no substitute for therapy performed by a licensed mental health counselor or therapist. People with serious mental health issues – especially those that are life-threatening, such as having suicidal thoughts – should contact a licensed mental health professional, or call a designated suicide prevention hotline.
But for people with less urgent mental health issues — such as depression, anxiety or phobias — chatlines can provide many of the benefits of talk therapy, without the high cost.
Nearly 19 percent of U.S. residents reported having some kind of mental illness in 2015, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. More than 43 million Americans suffer from mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, but more than half of those people never get help — even if they have health insurance.
There are many factors that prevent many people suffering from mental health to get help. Those with insurance may find that many mental health professionals don’t accept their insurance provider, for example. They may also find that the out-of-pocket costs, even with their insurance, are prohibitive. And for those without health insurance? The costs can be astronomical.
For these people, it’s imperative to find a way of treating their mental health disorders without breaking the bank. That’s where chatlines can play an important role.
One of the major benefits of chatlines over traditional therapy is convenience. It can be a hassle to take time off work or school to drive all the way to a therapist’s office. Chatlines, by contrast, are accessible by the phones in one’s own home or, for the overwhelming majority of people, the phones in their pockets.
Research backs up this logic. A recent study found that depressed patients who engaged in talk therapy over the phone rather than in an office were 12 percent more likely to continue their sessions. The study said patients are more likely to complete the therapy over the phone because “they take less time, avoid transportation problems and are less expensive.”
Even so, over-the-phone talk therapy can be expensive. Chatlines provide a viable, cheaper alternative.
Although the internet has revolutionized the way we communicate with each other, some people still don’t have access to the internet — but they may have access to a telephone.
The internet has made us more connected than ever before but, counterintuitively, it’s also made us more isolated than ever. For example, studies show that the more people use social media websites such as Facebook, the unhappier they are.
Chatlines can overcome that sense of isolation. Websites like Facebook or Twitter allow you to scroll through messages and photos posted by your friends, but the interaction, for the most part, is so superficial that it’s no surrpise people feel isolated and lonely as they scroll through endless social media posts.
Where chatlines excel is allowing you to talk to someone one-on-one, without the distraction or superficiality inherent in social media. With a chatline, you can’t rely on funny photos of your cat or other online gimmicks to win someone’s attention. You must have a good old-fashioned conversation, and strike a balance between listening about them, and sharing information about yourself and your own life. That’s the kind of deep connection social media can’t provide.
More Than Loneliness
Of course, it seems obvious that chatlines could help alleviate loneliness and the accompanying depression. But chatlines have the potential to help people with many different kinds of mental health disorders, including:
- Depression. Loneliness and isolation can be major contributors to clinical depression, and the simple act of talking to and connecting with someone over the phone can play a tremendous role in alleviating that isolation.
- Anxiety. Those with anxieties can help calm themselves by talking through the source of their anxiety with someone on a chatline – without the level of embarrassment they may feel confiding in a family member or close friend.
- Stress. Many people take for granted having a friend or spouse to talk to at the end of the day – to unload all the stresses that built up at work or at school. For people who don’t have such a trusted confidant, chatlines can fill the void.
- Phobias. Some phobias, such as social phobias, can be alleviated through chatlines. People can forge a connection with someone in a risk-free environment. As they build confidence, they can take chances in the real world.
- Speech Disorders. Sometimes it’s difficult to ask loved ones for help. People with speech disorders, such as stuttering or a lisp, may find the thought of practicing their speech in front of friends or family members utterly mortifying. By speaking with a stranger over a chatline, they can put their embarrassment aside — they never have to talk to their chat partner again if they don’t want to — and practice talking to another person in order to overcome their speech impediment.
Mental health is an issue that is getting worse, not better, in this country. Until the mental health system in this country is seriously reformed, people are going to continue to look for alternatives to expensive therapy sessions. Chatlines are just one of the options providing an affordable alternative for people throughout the country.