As the CEO of a health care company that delivers care for chronic conditions through large, national health plans, it is sometimes difficult to get a pulse on how our end users are feeling, but it offers incredibly important insight.
While most of our members have conditions that put them at risk for serious physical illness, to truly keep them healthy, we have to take their mental wellbeing into consideration. This is true especially during the pandemic given the isolation that many people are experiencing
Now, more than ever, we need health care that takes care of the whole person, rather than just treating a singular condition. The pandemic has changed our access to health care, disrupted our routines, and left many people without the daily activities that help them maintain their mental health, such as in-person visits with friends or trips to the gym. Moreover, people now have real anxiety about how to stay healthy and keep their families safe. On top of that, recent cases of police brutality have added another layer of stress and serious concern for people and communities across the country.
Our current health care system is designed to address depression and anxiety that is more acute and clinical in nature. For years, our concept of mental health care has been for patients to visit an in-person specialist who can diagnose their disorder and prescribe medication. One indicator of the unique mental health crisis we currently face is the increased use of prescription medications that help treat depression. The latest data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration show a limited supply of commonly prescribed antidepressant and anxiety medications, as usage has soared over the past couple of months. This pharmacological intervention is sometimes paired with visiting a therapist or attending group counseling on an ongoing basis. While this works well for many people, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for addressing mental health challenges.
We must broaden the definitions of mental and behavioral health to include everyone in need of aid. The health of our minds affects our physical health; everything is connected. Research has shown that stress and anxiety, which often go untreated, could influence the development of future chronic conditions. For instance, according to the American Heart Association, stress may play a role in the development of Type 2 diabetes in women.
Especially as we stay at home and adjust to our new normal, there is a strong need to make behavioral health tools that address feelings of anxiety or stress available to everyone who needs them. Video visits through a computer or phone calls with a medical professional may be comfortable and convenient for some users, but there are other digital options that offer more consistent, personalized attention, especially for times when a licensed provider isn’t available. Virtual Zoom classes, meditation apps, and remote, digital counseling that’s friendly, conversational, and available 24/7, are other ways to provide people with the resources and education they need to manage feelings of stress, anxiety, and the associated negative health effects.
If we’ve learned anything during this pandemic, it’s that the health care system needs to evolve so that people can receive care, including behavioral and mental health care, that fits their everyday lives. The good news is mental and behavioral health services are defined as “essential health benefits” for health plans available through the government-operated Health Insurance Marketplace, which helps people shop for coverage. However, specific benefits differ depending on state regulations and the plan chosen. As the need for mental health care grows, a patchwork of different benefits is no longer acceptable. We need full coverage and access to mental and behavioral health services to be the standard on all plans available in the United States.
For companies and leaders across the health care industry, the past several months have required us all to adapt and reevaluate how we do business and help the people we serve. As we face new challenges together in the months ahead, we must double down on our commitment to being a resource for people in need. This is our opportunity to create a more holistic, accessible system of care for the future.