Pandemic may trigger change in views on mental health

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From Excellus BlueCross BlueShield:

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield estimates that New Yorkers used telehealth benefits about 290,000 times last year. In the first four months of 2020, a time period marked by the global spread of COVID-19, the number skyrocketed to an estimated 2.6 million times. According to Excellus BCBS’s claims-based review of services delivered, more than one-third of telehealth visits are for mental health services.

“The spike we’ve witnessed this year in the use of telehealth is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sudha Bakshi, M.D., Excellus BlueCross BlueShield medical director. “We may look back on this crisis as the trigger event that forever changed the way health care services are delivered, and the level of acceptance and treatment of mental health disorders.”

One in five people live with mental illness, according to NAMI Rochester, an independent affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and NAMI New York State. NAMI defines mental illness as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood, and may affect an individual’s ability to function and relate to others.

Yet, four in 10 upstate New Yorkers believe that society is unsympathetic to those with mental illness, according to a survey on mental health issues commissioned late in 2019 by Excellus BCBS.

“Increasing access to care, including expanding the use of telehealth, may be a factor in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness,” said Bakshi.

The need to practice physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped many patients realize they can see a specific health provider on an ongoing basis from the privacy of their residence, where they feel comfortable. Psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, counselors, nurse practitioners, and other behavioral health and mental health providers all can provide care and services via telehealth.

The top five mental and behavioral health conditions for which Excellus BCBS members are seeking treatment using telehealth are anxiety, depression, substance-related disorders, bipolar disorder, and alcohol-related disorders.

Helpful links include the National Alliance on Mental Illness at https://www.nami.org, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html. See complete results of the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield survey on mental health issues at https://tinyurl.com/EXmentalhealthsurvey .

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