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Mental health concerns keep rising among Americans of all backgrounds, especially those who are Black, young adults, older than 65 or who identify as LGBTQIA+.
That’s according to a new CVS Health/Morning Consult Poll, which also showed that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are largely more comfortable pursuing mental health support and feel positive about the technology used to deliver it, such as telehealth.
Results show that a majority of respondents, 59%, have experienced concerns about either their own mental health or that of family and friends. That’s a 9% increase since April 2020. Another majority, 53%, agree that hearing about other people’s challenges makes them more comfortable seeking out resources and care for themselves.
And since the pandemic began, most people agree that society has become more comfortable engaging in mental health discussions (56%), using digital tools to improve mental health (58%) and using telemedicine for therapy (63%).
WHAT’S THE IMPACT
The findings indicate both an increase in the prevalence of mental health concerns among certain groups of Americans, and more willingness to seek out options for care. Telehealth has gone a long way toward making people feel more comfortable seeking treatment.
A 2021 study showed that mental health services accounted for the most common use of telehealth during the early days of the pandemic. In the midst of skyrocketing depression rates, the findings show that more patients used telehealth for behavioral rather than physical conditions.
This shift to telehealth, particularly video, was enabled by time-limited, regulatory changes related to reimbursement, privacy standards for telehealth technology, and licensure. Lessons from utilization during this period can inform policy for the post-COVID-19 era.
A report from health insurer Cigna, also released last year, made it clear that businesses have taken notice of this shift to behavioral telehealth: 44% of human resources decision-makers and 27% of health plan leaders said that increased access to mental health services will become a long-term solution for their organization. Some 57% of health plan leaders said they had seen the value of mental health services increase more than for most other services and benefits as a result of the coronavirus.
Telehealth is likely the main catalyst for this change, with many patients seeking behavioral care for the first time during the public health crisis thanks in large part to access to technology.
With more than 60% of behavioral health customers now using virtual services, 97% of the people who accessed such services during the initial stay-at-home orders from March to May 2020 didn’t have a behavioral telehealth claim prior to lockdown.
The LGBTQIA+ community, young adults, Black Americans and respondents older than 65 had greater increases in mental health concerns, the new survey found.
Fifty-seven percent of respondents who identify as LGBTQIA+ expressed concerns about their own mental health – 20% higher compared to other respondents. Seventy-four percent of respondents aged 18-34 experienced mental health concerns for themselves, family or friends, reflecting a 12% increase compared to two years ago.
Black Americans saw an 11% increase in mental health concerns since the start of the pandemic, while four in ten Americans 65 or older experienced mental health concerns for themselves, family or friends, reflecting a 10% increase compared to two years ago.
The survey also found that while 74% of employed adults agree that employers should offer their employees resources and access to mental health services, only 35% of employed adults feel comfortable discussing mental health with a colleague, indicating an opportunity for workplaces to further engage their employees.
THE LARGER TREND
Strengthening access to mental health services has been a focus for the current administration. In March, the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Office of Minority Health, announced it would provide close to $35 million in funding toward strengthening and expanding mental health services and suicide prevention programs for children and young adults.
Of the total, $9.2 million comes from the American Rescue Plan.
The announcement came on the heels of HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra’s recent National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health, in which he sought to hear from Americans about their mental health struggles. The tour was part of a broader administration effort to engage with local leaders to bolster community mental health and crisis care systems.
That same month, President Biden submitted a budget to Congress that supports full parity between physical health and behavioral healthcare, including mental health and substance-use-disorder care. The budget provides $697 million in 988 and Behavioral Health Services, which will expand access to crisis-care services for people with suicidal ideations or who are experiencing a behavioral-health crisis. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will transition from a 10-digit number to 9-8-8 in July.
The budget also includes new mandatory investments totaling $51.7 billion over 10 years to improve behavioral health. This includes $7.5 billion for a new Mental Health Transformation Fund for mental-health workforce development and service expansion. It gives $35.4 billion to improve mental health access in Medicaid. It also includes $4.1 billion to permanently extend funding for Community Mental Health Centers.
It gives $1.2 billion to improve access to behavioral-health services in the private insurance market, including a proposal to require coverage of three behavioral health visits with no enrollee cost-sharing.
Another $3.5 billion would improve Medicare mental health coverage by covering three behavioral health visits per year without cost-sharing, revising the criteria for psychiatric hospital terminations from Medicare, eliminating the 190-day lifetime limit on psychiatric hospital services, and applying the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act to Medicare.