Community//

Walmart wants to treat your ‘crazy’

The ongoing shortage of mental health providers prompts individual visionaries and corporations to try out different solutions to deliver psychological support to the masses. Walmart is one of the most recent game changers. The company's vision is to offer mental health treatment at every store. This idea has faced mostly criticism.

Dr. Damian Jacob Sendler
Dr. Damian Jacob Sendler

Expanding mental health through Walmart? How the new corporate experiment in mental health might revolutionize mental health treatments in rural America.

Mental health crisis?

Recent medical literature consistently shows that we have a mental health crisis in America. Therefore, clinicians in psychiatry have worked tirelessly for the last 10 or so years to figure out how to help millions of people with limited availability of mental health providers. Most clinicians have bet on developing e-health therapies, which envision delivering treatments via computer or a phone. Others became firm believers in community psychiatry, which is characterized by opening small local mental health centers around the country, where people experiencing psychiatric distress can come in for an evaluation. 

The ongoing shortage of mental health providers prompts individual visionaries and corporations to try out different solutions to deliver psychological support to the masses. Walmart is one of the most recent game changers. The company’s vision is to offer mental health treatment at every store. This idea has faced mostly criticism.

Why Walmart?

Theoretically, Walmart has the potential to revolutionize the delivery of mental health treatments in rural America. However, at what cost? What is worrisome to health experts is the quality of these treatments. See, the recent developments in app-based mobile therapies proved that it is difficult to experience effective counseling when the cost of service is less than the price of a Latte. After all, you get what you pay for, which raises some concerns about whether Walmart will be able to sustain affordable service that also offers quality mental care. 

My own research lab studies extensively the use of online technologies and community-based care to deliver cost-effective and high-quality psychiatric treatments. Therefore, I am optimistic about Walmart’s project to provide mental health to the masses. 

The main reason why Walmart’s new business idea might succeed is if they employ licensed therapists, who will be available on-site to take care of patients. In fact, Walmart should look into existing competitors — urgent care centers — for solutions. 

Community urgent care has succeeded by targeting a niche of clients who don’t have complex healthcare needs but need medical attention for common illnesses, like flu or bone fractures. If Walmart follows a similar path, that is: establish mental health clinics that act as contact-point for individuals interested in introductory psychological therapy, the project might succeed and revolutionize primary psychiatric care in rural America.

Is it bad for me to get treated at Walmart?

It depends on the complexity of mental health problems. It seems that clinics at Walmart might be the first access point to mental health providers. For those patients who experience profoundly disabling psychiatric symptoms, they might still benefit from reaching out to brick-and-mortar psychiatric clinics or hospitals. A good and honest clinician should be transparent about their ability to treat the patient, given the constraints of the patient’s symptomology and provider’s training and experience.

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