Getting started: The biggest barrier to getting behavioral health services

New research from MDLIVE shows that getting started is the biggest hurdle for getting individuals struggling with behavioral health issues to seek the care they need.

According to new research by MDLIVE, 7 in 10 people experience uncertainty and confusion when considering starting behavioral health care.

This wide-ranging study of 1,000 U.S. consumers between the ages of 18 and 75 who currently use or are open to using behavioral health services illuminates the challenges people face when it comes to seeking behavioral health care. More importantly, it provides insight into what we can do to address those challenges amid the national mental health crisis the U.S. is experiencing that emerged even before COVID-19. According to the National Institute of Health (NIMH), 1 in 5 American adults—approximately 52 million people—struggles with a mental health condition, and less than half receive treatment.

Limited understanding of behavioral health

The research explored the specific contributors to the uncertainty and confusion that keeps individuals from seeking the support they need from a behavioral health provider. In the study, 31% of participants not engaged in behavioral health care, but open to it, report they don’t understand the desired outcomes, which is a critical cornerstone of engagement between a patient and provider. Other factors contributing to the uncertainty and confusion:

  • Concerns about insurance coverage and cost
  • Feeling overwhelmed by all of the options
  • Confusion over what to consider when selecting a provider and concerns about finding a good match

In fact, the research revealed a widespread lack of understanding of the different types of behavioral health providers and their roles, which may make the process of finding a provider even more daunting. Among individuals open to using behavioral health services, only 40% understand what a therapist offers and only 39% understand the role of a psychologist. The confusion exists even among those who have had behavioral health care services in the past:

  • Only 50% report understanding the role of a psychologist
  • Only 44% report understanding the role of a counselor
  • A mere 35% say they understand the role of a mental health coach

Perhaps most surprising, the research revealed that stigma and fear exist at substantially higher rates among people who have participated in behavioral health care services previously compared to those who haven’t. The proportion of study participants citing stigma as a barrier to seeking behavioral health care in the future was 68% higher among past behavioral health care users versus non-users, and fear was reported by nearly twice as many past users versus non-users.

How plan sponsors can break down the barriers to getting behavioral health care

There are several ways that plan sponsors and providers can work together to reduce the fear, confusion, and frustration of getting care for individuals struggling with behavioral health conditions:

  • Provide members with support throughout the process, starting with resources and tools that are easy to access and use to help them navigate their benefits. These resources should help individuals understand the different types of providers in order to establish a good match from the onset.
  • Diversify access to behavioral health provider through non-traditional channels, such as phone calls, texting, and online video. This will make individuals more comfortable with getting care knowing they can do it on their terms.
  • Reduce the longstanding stigma around mental health. Behavioral health care needs to be described with terms that individuals are using to define their situation and not based on the clinical terminology that can sometimes carry negative connotations.

With an increased focus on treating behavioral health conditions, plan sponsors have a role to play in getting members the care that they need by giving them the tools they need to get started.

Originally published on 2/17/22 and updated on 5/30/22.

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Evernorth Behavioral Health
Evernorth Behavioral Health takes a data-informed approach and provides personalized care across the entire continuum for the populations we serve. Our solutions help support mental health and emotional well-being by using identification models to proactively engage members, help them navigate to the right level of care, quickly — and provide quality outcomes that drive cost savings.
MDLIVE is a leading 24/7 virtual care delivery platform that offers convenient and affordable virtual health care services to over 60 million members nationwide.