May 6, 2020
Shining a light on behavioral health and Mental Health Month
Matt Collins, MD, MBA
BCBSRI Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, physical health is of course still top of mind for all of us. Obviously our focus is, and has been, ensuring that our members continue to have access to the medical care they need at this time. We took proactive steps early on in the pandemic to ensure that access, covering telehealth services at 100 percent and waiving cost-sharing for telephonic specialist visits and diagnostic testing related to COVID-19.
That 100 percent coverage for telehealth also includes behavioral health services/provider visits. Telehealth usage overall has increased exponentially since mid-March, and is up well over 300 percent since the beginning of 2020. Behavioral telehealth services are up about 60 percent since January, and that number is expected to continue increasing as the pandemic continues. This is a life-changing event, and the need for convenient access to care for these services cannot be understated, especially for those who live alone, or who are already experiencing mental illness and/or substance use disorders.
Through the Doctors Online mobile app, BCBSRI members can access these services anytime, and can schedule appointments with behavioral health providers for an added level of convenience. For those who feel uncomfortable accessing behavioral healthcare for any reason, the virtual nature of the visit allows for confidential care delivered in the setting most comfortable to the patient. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with mental illness, and in 2019, 9.2 million U.S. adults experienced both mental illness and a substance use disorder. Closer to home, right here in RI, the numbers are disproportionately high, with 52.4 percent of adults and 14.7 percent of children experiencing behavioral health challenges.*
As you know, May is Mental Health Month, and its significance has never been greater than it is this year. It’s no longer just about the one in five mentioned above – it’s relevant for everyone given the uncertain times that we’re living through right now. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety are being experienced by so many during the pandemic. In addition, the resulting financial stress for many has also led to increased mental stress.
This year’s Mental Health Month theme is “Tools 2 Thrive,” with a focus on resiliency. With a wide range of materials to help spread the message about the importance of mental health, the Mental Health America (MHA) Mental Health Month toolkit is a great resource for all healthcare providers. It includes bonus material that is specifically geared toward how we can all work together to support mental health during such uncertain times.
Throughout May, BCBSRI will be doing our part to spread the message too. From highlighting the importance of mental health screenings (MHA has a goal of one million screenings in May) to sharing behavioral health tips from our experts through social media and our other external channels, we’ll be highlighting this critically important initiative at a critically important time. Please join us to help shine the light on mental health when it’s needed most.
*Statistics from the Behavioral Health Barometer Rhode Island Volume 5, a publication of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)