The word “resilience” has become a commonly used buzz word throughout the last year, and for good reason. It is all about bouncing back, and we have needed to do just that in multitude of ways – disruption to our daily lives, threat of contracting a deadly illness, racial inequity and injustice, gun violence, and more. Each of these activities alone can cause a lot of physical and mental strain, and when piled on top of each other, the damage can be great.
At Blue Shield of California, we believe in a holistic approach to one’s well-being, which includes mental health. In the last year, we dramatically expanded our mental health support option to meet our members’ growing needs for behavioral support. This work included collaborating with Teladoc to expand access to therapist and psychiatrists via telehealth, connecting with Sanvello for on-demand mental health support, offering substance abuse support through Bright Heart, starting a relationship with Brightline to provide virtual therapy for teens and kids, and continuing to align with California public schools to give our state’s youth access to comprehensive mental health support through BlueSky.
We also expanded mental health benefits for our employees -- by giving them more time to take care of themselves and their loved ones -- and provided financial support to physicians to ease their minds around financials while shelter-in-place and essential activity restrictions disrupted their standard order of operations.
And with nearly half of the state vaccinated, and hints of normalcy are popping up in our daily lives, there is still work to be done within the industry. We need to continue supporting our communities around challenges we anticipate them facing for the remainder of the year:
- Residual stress from events of the last year. As I mentioned before, there have been a lot of events for us all to navigate through this year. From caring for our own mental health, to those of our family members young and old, as well as managing care for ourselves and others that contracted the novel coronavirus, health concerns have been at the top of our lists of things to manage. And if you were personally affected by losing a loved one, a job, or feeling marginalized and unheard from acts of racial injustice, it is likely that you will be carrying additional grief and emotional strain for an extended period of time.
- Anxiety around “re-entry” into society. Our daily routine was abruptly, and significantly, changed in the start of 2020. There have been many layers of isolation with some people living alone, the inability to see family, friends, and colleagues in person, and so on. So, with things looking to be a bit more normal and opened up by this summer, it is easy to understand that we have spent more than the suggested two weeks to flatten the curve, and that we now have new routines that will once again be disrupted, for better or for worse.
- Wildfire season. California has been experiencing brutal wildfires for the last several years. And since there are counties already announcing drought precautions, it is assumed that this dry year will bring another series of anxiety and grief around destruction and potential health impacts. These types of events can weigh heavily on people on a regular basis, but if an area that has already experienced damage and loss, it can be triggering due to what happened previously.
It takes a village to address the impact of these ongoing and overlapping stressors. The healthcare community must meet members where they are, providing robust behavioral health care and resources to strengthen emotional well-being. Medical professionals can incorporate routine screening, care and referral for depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. Employers play a role by expanding benefits — such as Employee Assistance Programs — and through messaging and programs to increase mental health awareness. Finally, we can each play a role by strengthening our personal resilience and by speaking up to decrease stigma and support others.
We recognize that we still have so much more work to do. One in six Californians report having some form of mental health condition each year. Sixty percent of those never receive treatment and one if five who are actively reaching out for help can’t get it. This is not care worthy of our family and friends, and we are working to reimagine what behavioral health looks like at Blue Shield.
Bryce Williams is the vice president of MindBody Medicine at Blue Shield of California. In his role, he manages holistic health and telemedicine. If you are interested in seeking mental health resources through Blue Shield’s Wellvolution platform, please learn more at www.wellvolution.com.