Across the United States, behavioral health conditions have been on the rise since 2014 and have risen more sharply since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic
Behavioral health conditions have substantial effects on the American economy — including workplace productivity and health care costs. Mental illness causes more than 200 million missed workdays and more than $16 billion lost in productivity each year.
In Arkansas, the behavioral health issue is particularly serious. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that:
• The percentage of adults in Arkansas experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder is higher than the national average (40.4% vs. 37.7% in the United States).
• The suicide rate in Arkansas is almost four points higher than the national average. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents (ages 12-17) across the United States.
• There is an unmet need for behavioral health care in Arkansas: Only 34.4% of the need for mental health professionals is currently met in Arkansas, while 65.7% of adolescents who reported a major depressive episode did not receive mental health treatment, which is higher than the national average of 58.5%. Many Arkansas adults with mental illness do not receive mental health treatment.
• Barriers to behavioral health care include: Costs (of the adults in Arkansas who do not receive mental health treatment, 49.5% reported not receiving care due to costs), lack of awareness of behavioral health conditions and symptoms, lack of awareness of affordable resources available to support individuals experiencing symptoms, stigma associated with receiving behavioral health care and lack of health care resources for behavioral health.
“No question, behavioral health conditions such as anxiety, stress, depression and addiction are prevalent in the workplace,” said Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Not only are these conditions taking a tremendous toll on the overall health and well-being of employees, but employers are feeling their effects through absenteeism, reduced productivity and increased health care costs. I’ve seen studies that indicate annual health care costs are 3½ times higher for people with a behavioral health condition than costs for people without those conditions. Days lost due to absence cost employers in the range of $5,000 per employee per year and turnover can cost an employer around $6,000 per employee per year.”
Behavioral health conditions are also directly correlated with increases in overdose fatalities, suicide or premature death, according to Deloitte Insights. And, according to an analysis from the Well Being Trust and The Robert Graham Center, the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to 75,000 additional deaths from alcohol and drug misuse and suicide by 2029.
The Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas — the charitable foundation established and funded by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield to promote better health in Arkansas — has announced $5.29 million in grants for behavioral health programs in Arkansas.
Recipients include Arkansas Children’s, UAMS, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) endowments, Arkansas State University, the University of Arkansas, UA Little Rock and the Arkansas Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Arkansas).
The investment focuses on eight Arkansas programs led by six established organizations that will address the growing behavioral health crisis in the state. To meet the unique needs of Arkansans, the grants support programs that address behavioral health needs at all stages of life — from early childhood through adolescence and into adulthood — along with helping to increase the number of behavioral health professionals serving communities.
“For many years now, we’ve had a growing behavioral health crisis in our state and in our nation that’s now been made worse by the pandemic,” Barnett said. “We recognize that for those in need of behavioral health care, the challenges can be overwhelming. Patients and their families face a system marked by stigma, fragmented care, high costs and a shortage of clinicians. Behavioral health conditions are going undiagnosed and untreated and individuals and families are suffering and feeling despair. Every life deserves hope and we were inspired to try to bring hope to these individuals and families by making significant investments in initiatives to improve the behavioral health of Arkansans.”
The programs awarded the Blue & You Foundation grants are designed to:
• Build life-long health, resiliency and well-being for children and families by standardizing early intervention practices and addressing the drivers of behavioral health conditions.
• Expand the behavioral health care workforce and better integrate behavioral health into primary care.
• Remove barriers to care such as long-standing stigma around receiving behavioral health treatment.