On Oct. 10, we marked World Mental Health Day. Created by the World Health Organization in 1992, the day is meant to highlight needed resources and call for greater investments in individual and collective mental health care.
Indeed, mental health needs are growing in Minnesota, especially as we endure the impacts of COVID-19. We are seeing greater isolation, substance abuse and unemployment. Parents and students are adjusting to the new realities of school. Communities of color are facing added traumas of injustice. Health workers are stressed by the demands of COVID-19. And many people have had to say goodbye to a loved one due to the virus.
A recent survey by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBSM) also found that one in five Minnesota seniors report feeling lonely, anxious or depressed, and a majority of seniors fear a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.
As we honor this important day, I want to share elements of the mental health work being done by Minnesota’s nonprofit health plans and some of the free online resources that are available for those who need it. Our local health plan members care deeply about the health, safety and wellness of Minnesotans and have launched vital mental health initiatives over the years to support this mission. In recent months, they’ve ramped up efforts even more to meet Minnesotans’ mental health needs.
- Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota has been offering support through a podcast on mental and emotional well-being in the time of COVID-19, including an important episode on “Mental and Emotional Well-being in the Time of COVID-19.” In August, BCBSM added an online program for its members to access mental health support. BCBSM has also addressed several vital mental health topics via their blog, including:
- “Smiles for Jake works to spread positivity, change conversation around suicide”
- “Amidst stress of pandemic, Blue Plus increases access to mental health support through Learn to Live“
- “How to care for yourself and your mental health during a global pandemic“
- “Highlighting mental health awareness in BIPOC communities“
- Meanwhile, HealthPartners has expanded telehealth options to make mental health support for members safer and more accessible. The health plan is reaching out to members about scheduling appointments with therapists via phone or video, and behavioral health now has the second-most telemedicine visits across their care system, after primary care. HealthPartners is also providing its commercial members free access to the Omada Mind app, which provides access to clinically validated assessment tools, mental health coaches, personalized plans and 24/7 crisis support. Additionally, the health plan continues to identify members who are at-risk of suicide through an algorithm that looks at demographic and clinical characteristics. HealthPartner’s popular “Make It OK” anti-stigma program has created a list of local resources, tools and crisis lines for members who are living with mental illness.
- PreferredOne is supporting its members through broad coverage of virtual mental health services and access to Wellbeats, an on-demand fitness benefit that empowers habit-forming physical and mental health. PreferredOne also recently teamed with Pear Therapeutics to offer access to a new therapeutic class of treatments that use software to directly treat substance use disorder and opioid use disorder.
- UCare is offering a web page of behavioral health resources, as well as an informative discussion with Jennifer Garber, the plan’s Associate Vice President of Behavioral Health Services, who leads this area. At the onset of COVID-19, UCare provided program supports for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders to Wellness in the Woods, a rural mental health services organization that offers counseling and telephone support statewide. In addition, UCare’s Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Triage Line provides several important resources for members. These include referrals to mental health and substance-use disorder case management, help in finding in-network and specialty care mental health and substance use providers, and approvals and alerts for mental health and substance use services.
We’re proud of these efforts. But we also know that when it comes to mental health and illness, the work is never done, and no blog can truly capture the full scope of what our local health plan members do to support the health, safety and wellness of Minnesotans. That said, I strongly encourage readers to contact their health plan to discuss additional resources that available to them. Our member plans will continue to focus their efforts and expertise on mental health, and we look forward to sharing even more resources for Minnesotans in the months and years to come.