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Making Mental Health Care for All a Reality by Expanding Access to Care

It’s clear—COVID-19 has had a profound impact on the mental health and well-being of our country. The pandemic has caused people to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression at more than double the pre-pandemic rate, with recent CDC data showing that nearly 50% of U.S. adults ages 18-29 have experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety within the last seven days. This alarming uptick in mental health symptom experience, coupled with the behavioral health provider workforce shortage is creating a barrier in achieving equity in mental health care.

Much like any health condition, a mental health condition follows you wherever you go, including into the workplace. To support employee mental health and well-being, organizations are increasingly focused on creating a caring culture. Part of that process involves people managers supporting the mental health and well-being of their teams. That’s why we created Notice.Talk.Act.® at Work to help leaders Notice signs of a potential mental health concern, know how to Talk with someone they may be concerned about, and Act by connecting a team member with services and supports. By connecting a person with internal benefits, like an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), it increases the likelihood that they will reach out for needed care.

That connection is key, yet for many, the challenge resides in finding timely, effective and affordable care. The road to receiving care can be a long one, with countless calls to in-network mental health providers to schedule an appointment only to learn that none are available, there’s a four- to six-month wait to be seen, or the provider does not accept insurance. For some, the solution ends up being a non-solution: sitting tight while challenges and conditions worsen.

How do we address this so that more people who need help get it? One effective way is to deliver mental health care for mild-to-moderate conditions in primary care. The majority of anti-depressants in the U.S. are prescribed in primary care, often without the training and expertise needed to produce positive results. That’s why researchers developed The Collaborative Care Model (CoCM), to equip primary care providers (PCPs) with the tools and supports needed to treat and monitor mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, in their practice.

This person-centered approach to mental health care is led by the PCP and includes a behavioral health care manager, who delivers the treatment or therapies, and a psychiatric consultant, who reviews the care plan and makes treatment and medication recommendations when needed.

Collaborative care is only one solution to equity in mental health care for all, but it’s a good one. It’s access to mental health care in a low-stigma setting, with a provider a person already has a relationship with. This model works yet must be expanded to more practices across the country.

Businesses can help support the expansion of the CoCM and delivering effective mental health care in primary care settings. First, confirm that your health plan has turned on the CoCM billing codes. Most plans have, but it’s a good idea to check. Second, ask your health plan to provide ongoing support for provider technical assistance and training in implementing the CoCM. If we want to get serious about expanding access to care, we simply must support primary care in delivering timely and affordable mental health care.

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