Year: 2021 Source: Telemedicine and e_Health. (2021). Published online 3 June 2021. SIEC No: 20210460

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 Mann–Whitney 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.