By: Curtis Barnett | President & CEO, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield
When you examine the challenges facing healthcare today – access, affordability, quality, patient experience – behavioral health is front and center.
I’m describing behavioral health conditions such as depression and anxiety, as well as substance use disorders caused by overuse of drugs or alcohol. When I talk about a “whole-person” approach to care, I am addressing a patient’s physical, behavioral, and social needs in its entirety.
At Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, we believe a whole-person approach is the most effective way to improve overall health. Traditionally, healthcare has focused on physical health, leaving a tremendous amount of behavioral health needs undiagnosed and unmet. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 60% of those in need do not receive care for their behavioral health condition.
I suspect you’ve been touched in some way by a behavioral health condition – an employee, a neighbor, family member or close friend. Too often patients and their families face a system that is hard to understand, navigate and access – a system hampered by stigma, barriers to care, high costs, and a shortage of clinicians. The challenges can be overwhelming.
The pandemic exacerbated the problem. Over the past two years, the rate of people in Arkansas and the United States suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts has skyrocketed, especially among young adults. More than 3 in 10 adults in our country have reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder since May 2020. In comparison, in 2019, this number was approximately 1 in 10 adults.
Arkansas Blue Cross is making significant community and business investments to address this problem. Through our Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas, we have committed $5.29 million to expand behavioral health resources across our state, supporting behavioral health in all stages of life – from early childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood. This is the largest investment in the 20-year history of our foundation and represents one of the largest one-time private investments in healthcare in our state’s history. The six Arkansas-based organizations receiving this funding are making great progress on their initiatives and are collaborating to extend their impact.
The pandemic has opened the dialogue around behavioral health. We are seeing an increase in private investment in behavioral health as companies are trying to improve the system through new technologies and care models. And many of our political leaders, in both parties, are acknowledging our country’s behavioral health crisis and discussing ways to improve the system.
As a Faulkner County business leader, here are ways you can help:
- Help increase awareness of the need for expanded behavioral health services in your county
- Encourage elected officials and policymakers to discuss and support further actions to address the need for behavioral health and substance abuse services
- Become more aware of the importance of providing a whole-person approach to healthcare in the workplace, schools, homes and your community
- Become a champion for the whole-person conversation and help eliminate the stigma of behavioral health discussion
Arkansas Blue Cross is committed to being a leader in our state and the country when it comes to behavioral health and moving healthcare to a whole-person approach. I encourage you, as a business leader in Faulkner County, to join us in this most important effort.