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It has been a little more than four months since the United States government announced that the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency ended. Life is back to normal for everyone. 

We know that’s not the case. A lot of Americans are still working to recover financially from the pandemic. Others are still dealing with behavioral and mental health issues that either started during the pandemic or were exacerbated by it. 

What exactly is the difference between behavioral and mental health? The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) describes behavioral health as an umbrella term that includes mental health and substance abuse conditions, life stressors and crises, stress-related physical symptoms, and health behaviors. Behavioral health conditions arise from the interaction between genetic and environmental factors and often affect medical illnesses. 

Examples of common behavioral health problems include anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Healthcare professionals are increasingly using the term behavioral health over that of mental health to decrease the stigma of mental illness, encourage people to get help for it, and broaden the availability of previously unavailable treatment resources. 

Consequences of Behavioral Health Conditions 

Behavioral health issues might be more prevalent than you think — especially in children. Although 21% of U.S. adults have a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia, many behavioral health issues start in early childhood. Behavioral health disorders such as ADHD are more common among children aged 6-11, while diagnoses of depression and anxiety occur more in older children. 

Not only do individuals with behavioral health conditions suffer from the side effects of them, but they also are at higher risk for developing chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Plus, they’re more likely to have unstable employment, insecure housing, or involvement with the criminal justice system. Mood and anxiety disorders especially result in increased service use, loss of productivity, and poorer outcomes for pre-existing medical conditions. 

As all this research proves, the consequences of behavioral health conditions are many. Another effect of this nationwide issue is high healthcare spending.

Studies have shown that people with behavioral health conditions tend to have higher healthcare costs. Roughly 30% of individuals with a behavioral health condition in addition to other medical problems account for 57% of total annual healthcare costs. These people have total healthcare costs that average $12,275 — that’s about 3.5 times the total costs of individuals without a behavioral health condition. 

Barriers to Behavioral Health Care 

If behavioral health issues are so prevalent among Americans, why don’t more get treatment for their conditions? Mental Health America (MHA) notes that barriers that contribute to the number of individuals not receiving treatment include:

  • No insurance or limited coverage of services
  • A shortfall in psychiatrists, and an overall undersized mental health workforce
  • Lack of available treatment types (inpatient treatment, individual therapy, intensive community services)
  • Disconnect between primary care systems and behavioral health systems
  • Insufficient finances to cover costs, including copays, uncovered treatment types, or when providers do not take insurance 

Tools for Overcoming These Obstacles 

One way some of these obstacles are being addressed is through integrated behavioral health. This approach blends care in one setting for medical conditions and related behavioral health factors that affect health and well-being. It used to be that the U.S. healthcare system treated behavioral health conditions separately from medical ones, but that typically results in care that is fragmented, costly, and associated with poor outcomes. 

Evidence has shown that the integration of behavioral health in primary care improves access to needed care and health outcomes for depression, anxiety, and several other behavioral health conditions when compared to usual care. It also indicates that integrated behavioral health improves health and patient experience while reducing unnecessary costs in time, money, and delays. 

Primary care physicians and behavioral health specialists are increasingly looking to digital health tools to expand their services to patients who need care and encounter barriers in accessing it. Along with offering an integrated experience for both patients and providers, these technology resources improve both communication and workflows. 

Maybe there’s a patient who finally decided to seek treatment for his or her behavioral health condition. That patient can call for an in-office appointment, sit in the waiting room while filling out numerous forms, and watch to see that they don’t see anyone they know. Or, they can utilize online scheduling and digital check-in to complete those tasks conveniently and discreetly by using their mobile device. 

To take it a step further, the use of telehealth enables that patient to speak with a clinician without going into the office, thereby eliminating any fears of stigma from receiving care for a behavioral health condition. This is especially beneficial for residents living in rural areas or those with transportation issues. More than 95% of psychologists agree that the use of telehealth is useful as a therapeutic tool, with 93% agreeing that they would continue to offer the option to their patients. 

Contact a member of our talented team today to see how the Epion Health platform can help your medical group better serve patients with behavioral health conditions and reduce any obstacles that might prevent them from receiving high-quality care.