How to Tackle the 3 Barriers to Behavioral Health Care

More than half of Americans with a mental health condition do not receive treatment. This is true for Blue KC members as well – nearly 20 percent of our members have a behavioral health condition and close to half don’t receive treatment.

Treatment and intervention for behavioral health conditions has evolved significantly over the past two decades. The ideas of mental and behavioral health gleaned from movies, television or even from friends and family is outdated. While awareness of behavioral health may be on the rise, the barriers to care remain. Not only do individuals suffer from the stigma surrounding behavioral health conditions like mood or substance use disorders, they also battle the accessibility and cost of care.

At Blue KC, we believe that seeking help for behavioral health should be as acceptable and accessible as seeking help for a physical illness like the flu or a broken bone. This starts by breaking down the barriers to care and providing Kansas Citians with direction on where to start.

The Barriers to Behavioral Health Care

When investigating the ‘why’ behind the lack of behavioral health treatment, three themes of reasoning stand out – cost, accessibility and stigma.

Cost

Much like health care in general, care for behavioral health conditions is perceived to be too expensive. The top contributors to cost are out of pocket funds or insufficient insurance coverage. Individuals suffering from a behavioral health condition rule out diagnoses or treatment simply due to their inability to pay for the services. Others lack an understanding of what type of treatment is covered by health insurance. At Blue KC, we are actively working to ensure that all our members can afford behavioral health care.

Accessibility

The Cohen Veterans Network reports over a third of both Gen Z and Millennials have tried to seek out mental health services but found it too hard to figure out where to go for help. Those suffering from a condition such as major depression or substance use disorder don’t know where to turn for support. And, those that do, start with primary care physicians (PCP). With the standard primary care service model, most PCPs are ill-equipped to care for behavioral health concerns, whether it be insufficient reimbursement models (back to barrier #1, cost) or the lack of training and resources. Another important factor to note with accessibility is distance – 46 percent of adults have had to or know someone who has had to travel more than an hour roundtrip to get access to mental health care.

Blue KC has already taken strides to decrease the barrier of accessibility to members by introducing Spira Care, an integrated healthcare model that combines primary care and behavioral health under one roof.  Additionally, we work with our local behavioral health professionals to ensure we have an appropriate network of clinicians for the Kansas City community.

Stigma

Historically, there has been a stigma around the topic of behavioral health. Acceptance that one needs treatment for a behavioral health condition can be the most overwhelming part of the healing process. Individuals associate the need for treatment with embarrassment, which leads to the fear of disclosing mental health or substance use issues. Ultimately, these negative perceptions associated with behavioral health conditions leave many people reluctant to seek treatment There are others that don’t understand behavioral health and incorrectly assume that what they are feeling is their new normal.

Blue KC is working within the community to eliminate the stigma associated with behavioral health conditions and ensuring that people are seeking and receiving the necessary treatment.

Steps to Seek Care

Simply clicking on this blog post might have felt like a large step. Whether you realize it or not, you have taken the first step toward seeking help for yourself or someone else, which is something to be proud of. Here are four steps to seek treatment for a behavioral health condition, all aimed to break down the barriers to care and debunk misconceptions associated with each.

1. Do your research.

Researching behavioral health conditions can be beneficial – for you and others. Some helpful resources for learning about behavioral health include:

  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The lead federal agency for mental health research.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): The largest grassroots mental health organization, dedicated to education and advocacy for those with mental health conditions.
  • MentalHealth.gov: The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) resource for mental health, which offers information about various behavioral health conditions and a treatment locator for finding services in your area.
  • Mental Health America: A nonprofit that addresses the needs of those living with mental illness and promotes overall mental health as a critical part of overall wellness.
  • Healthy People 2020: A government initiative that provides 10-year national objectives for improving the health of Americans, a focus of which is mental health.
  • Active Minds: A nonprofit organization that supports mental health awareness and education for students.

2. Confide in a trusted source.

If you or someone you know is being impacted by a behavioral health condition, it is imperative that you tell someone. Talking about feelings, emotions and behaviors not only helps break the stigma, it more importantly can help the individual impacted. When ready to open up, do so with someone you trust – a parent, close friend, supervisor or a human resources (HR) department all are options to name a few. These people can listen, provide comfort and help identify the resources available. 

3. Know your coverage offerings.

Almost half of people who haven’t sought behavioral health treatment before say they would not know where to go if they needed mental health services. Whether you are a Blue KC member or not, there are countless resources available to you. Regardless of your insurance coverage, a good starting place is with your HR department. Not only should they have education and resource materials available for you, your HR department can also discuss your behavioral health coverage options with you.

4. Get immediate help.

If you or someone you know are in crisis, and need immediate support or intervention, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website or call 1-800-273-8255. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, either on the phone or in a secure online chat.

Any conversation with Lifeline – whether online or on the phone – is confidential. Calls and chats are routed to the nearest crisis center in a national network. These crisis centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals. If the situation is potentially life-threatening, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.

One of the first steps to identifying a behavioral health condition in yourself or someone else is to know the signs and symptoms. Although there are countless online resources available to help educate you, it’s highly recommended to receive care from a trained medical professional to treat behavioral health conditions.

For more information about Blue KC’s behavioral health offerings, call our behavioral health partner, New Directions. The Behavioral Health number is on the back of your Blue KC ID member card: 1-800-528-5763.

Rebecca Gernon, M.D.

Medical Director
Dr. Rebecca Gernon is a Medical Director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC). Dr. Gernon leads Blue KC’s medical cost and quality stewardship activities, oversees Blue KC’s cost affordability initiatives and engages with employers and providers to enhance the quality of care for members.

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