We’ve been through a lot the past few years. If you’re feeling, sad, anxious or depressed, you’re not alone. Effects of the pandemic have become apparent with four in ten adults self-reporting depression and anxiety symptoms in January 2021, up 340% from two years prior, according to Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) reports.
Fortunately help was only a virtual visit away. Mental health providers across the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) network absorbed a 25% increase in behavioral health visits from 2019 to 2021 while integrating virtual health tools amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a BCBSTX data analysis.
Many of us still feel more stressed and anxious than usual. Some people may have trouble with appetite, sleeping, concentrating or other aspects of their lives. Others may drink, use drugs or have other unhealthy coping strategies to help with their feelings. More Texans reported symptoms than the national average, nearly 3% higher in October 2021, according to a U.S. Census Bureau 2021 Household Pulse Survey.
Throughout the pandemic BCBSTX behavioral health providers saw a significant increase in demand for visits due to stressors such as isolation, job loss and financial insecurities. In addition, substance abuse rose 30%, according to KFF, as well as suicide and domestic abuse.
“Our provider network did a great job and are to be congratulated. If there was unmet demand, hospitalizations would have spiked and they remained relatively flat,” says Dr. Frank Webster, BCBSTX Chief Medical Officer for Behavioral Health. “Often, we’re looking for complex, expensive solutions to problems, when, in reality, it’s the simple thing that matter most. All we had to change was how the work flows, in this case from in-person to virtual visits, and it made all the difference.”
Pre-pandemic, Texans weren’t seeking enough behavioral health help – nearly 45% of adults diagnosed with a with serious mental illness didn’t receive treatment in 2018 and 2019, according to KFF.
With 99% of behavioral health visits being conducted face-to-face in January 2020, the shift became 50 to 60% virtual in March 2020 and beyond. The shift to virtual also allowed providers to see more patients, and through mid-2021, BCBSTX member behavioral health visits held steady at 51% virtual.
“With this being an infectious pandemic, there was pressure to have a rapid fix because providers needed to keep seeing people,” Webster says. “But there’s no quick fix to the number of doctors and providers, when demand surges and when you think about how long it takes to train and educate masters- and doctorate-level providers.”
The general assumption is that virtual visits are more convenient and efficient too. Webster says providers tell us that face-to-face visits are only kept around 70% of the time for a variety of reasons, but virtual visits are being kept 90 to 95% of the time. That’s a win.
“The pandemic hit a lot of people hard and didn’t hit them equally,” Webster says. “We’re always exploring options to improve access to behavioral health services. It’s a priority to us.”
Mental health is just as important as your physical health. Lifestyle changes, counseling, medication and other therapies can assist and get you feeling better. The good news is, those decisions with a health care provider can take place in-person as well as through your computer or smartphone.
If you are struggling, have a conversation with your health care provider and share with them any health questions or concerns you may have.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas (BCBSTX) – the only statewide, customer-owned health insurer in Texas – is the largest provider of health benefits in the state, working with nearly 80,000 physicians and healthcare practitioners, and 500 hospitals to serve more than 6 million members in all 254 counties. BCBSTX is a Division of Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC) (which operates Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Texas, Illinois, Montana, Oklahoma and New Mexico), the country's largest customer-owned health insurer, and fourth largest health insurer overall. Health Care Service Corporation is a Mutual Legal Reserve Company and an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.