Clinically Speaking: Overcoming Barriers to Behavioral Health Care

Nearly 50% of American adults who struggle with behavioral health conditions are not being treated, and the medical and financial impact is far-reaching.

Behavioral Health’s Role in Well-being and Cost of Care

Behavioral health plays a huge role in our general well-being. Being in a healthy mental state can help prevent serious conditions. On the flip side, poor behavioral health is a risk factor for diabetes, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease and arthritis, in terms of complications, compliance and control.

Unfortunately, close to 50% of American adults struggling with behavioral health conditions are not being treated, and the medical and financial impact is far-reaching. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, untreated mental conditions contribute to inefficient care of physical ailments, costing health plans and employers billions of dollars annually. Depression alone is responsible for $44 billion in lost productivity.

New Behavioral Health Research

As the U.S. faces a shortage of behavioral health professionals, provider availability has become a real challenge in many areas. However, there are other factors keeping people from getting the care they need.

According to research from MDLIVE, participants overwhelmingly cite that the hardest part about seeking behavioral health care is getting started. In fact, 70% of respondents who wanted to get help said they experienced some type of confusion or uncertainty. And the negative stigma associated with getting treatment for behavioral health issues is only part of the story.

Some of the most common questions and concerns keeping people from taking the first step were:

  • What does my insurance cover? And is the remainder affordable?
  • What should I expect as an outcome? And when will my care end?
  • How do I find a provider I’m comfortable with who has experience helping people like me? And can I change providers if it’s not a good fit? 

Also, there was a widespread lack of understanding of the different types of behavioral health providers and their roles, which may make the process of finding one even more daunting. Among people open to using behavioral health services, only about 40% understand the role of a psychologist or what a therapist offers.

Behavioral health patients must share personal thoughts and feeling and discuss topics that make them feel vulnerable. So, it’s not surprising that respondents stressed the importance of the provider relationship and finding one they can trust.

Objective screening tools such as the Patient Health Questionnaire and General Anxiety Disorder Scale are useful, but at the core of behavioral health diagnoses and treatment is one-to-one communication that allows the provider to explore the patient’s thoughts and feelings.

Helping patients understand the different types of providers and proper treatment options is a key step to breaking down the barriers for getting them to get the care they need.

Behavioral Health Stigma is Still a Factor

Perhaps most surprising is that the proportion of study participants who cited stigma as a barrier to seeking future behavioral health care was 68% higher among past users versus non-users. And nearly twice as many past users reported feelings of fear.

Considering that depression and anxiety are highly recurrent, providing encouragement and support for members and employees who have previously sought professional help for behavioral health issues is as important, if not more important, than providing support for those new to therapy. 

Breaking Down the Barriers to Getting Behavioral Health Care

Working together, health plans, employers and providers can reduce a patient’s fear, confusion and frustration with getting behavioral care by taking these four steps:

  1. Provide patients with support to help them navigate their benefits, starting with resources and tools that are easy to access and use.
  2. Help them filter different types of providers and find a good match from the start. And make it clear that they aren’t locked into a relationship with any provider.
  3. Offer a broad range of options for individuals to connect with their behavioral health provider, such as phone calls, texting, and online video.
  4. Rethink how we talk about behavioral health to reduce the longstanding negative stigma and harmful labels associated with it. People struggling with behavioral health want to be optimistic and hopeful.

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Evernorth Behavioral Health
Evernorth’s data-informed approach to behavioral health provides personalized and customized care across the entire continuum for the populations we serve. These solutions predict emerging health needs, close gaps in care, and drive cost savings—all while empowering whole person and whole family health.
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.

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