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Removing barriers to mental health services: Five things plan sponsors can do now


We recognize July as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Mental Health Month and use it as an opportunity to educate and bring awareness to the unique mental health challenges that underrepresented groups across America are facing. While everyone can be affected by mental health issues, Black individuals are one community disproportionately impacted.

Black Americans are more likely to experience serious mental health issues than other racial groups and nearly half have struggled with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.1,2

Traditional approaches often fail to address these disparities and access to care is a significant challenge. Only one in three Black Americans experiencing mental health challenges receive care due to multiple barriers, including stigma.3 Many Black Americans view depression as a weakness that should be kept to oneself or within one’s family.4 When and if they do take steps to receive treatment, they encounter another barrier: a lack of providers who really understand the lives and experiences of the underserved well — and what will help them address their needs. Less than 5 percent of mental health professionals are Black.5 When underserved groups do not see practitioners who look like them or understand them, the system can be hard to navigate and they may feel judged, which results in them not being engaged.

Stigma around mental health is generally greater among racial and ethnic minority populations, according to the American Psychiatric Association.6 We must break down barriers if we want to ensure our health care system provides high-quality, culturally relevant mental health services and a diverse workforce of health care providers. When it comes to getting help with mental health issues, it is important to have a shared cultural understanding. Everyone deserves the necessary support to recognize mental illness, stand up against stigma and reach out for help when they need it.

Fortunately, pharmacy benefits plan sponsors have a unique opportunity to increase access to mental health care. Here are five things plan sponsors can do now.


One: Understand the business case.

Addressing mental health is a business imperative. Health care and low productivity due to stress costs employers $300 billion per year.7 Downstream impacts of unaddressed mental health needs include health care costs for co-occurring illnesses that are two to three times higher.8


Two: Fight culture with culture.

A safe and transparent organizational culture, in which managers and leaders openly acknowledge and discuss their own journeys to achieve mental well-being, can help to reduce stigma. More than half of Americans (53 percent) agree that hearing about other people’s challenges make them more comfortable seeking care for themselves.9


Three: Provide robust resources and remind plan members of them frequently.

Fewer than 20 percent of employees who report burnout are using company benefits for mental health.10 Nearly half of employees are unsure whether their employer offers an Employee Assistance Program.11 Ensuring access to robust services and elevating the importance of accessing them are critical to employee wellness.


Four: Leverage varied channels and technology.

Mental health services have become more accessible as comfort with telehealth and virtual care increases. In a recent CVS Health/Morning Consult survey, 56 percent of Americans agree that society has become more comfortable using digital tools to improve mental health; and 63 percent agree that society has become more comfortable using telemedicine for therapy.12


Five: Partner with CVS Health

As a health care innovation company that touches more than 100 million people across our lines of business, we have the ability to improve the trajectory of health for people in America and provide more equitable and accessible health care services.

CVS Health has made a strong commitment to health equity across the enterprise; mental health is a key pillar of our strategy. Our holistic approach, including touchpoints both physical – through CVS Pharmacy, MinuteClinic and HealthHUBs – and digital – through our connectivity with millions of patients and providers – can support plan sponsors in their efforts to make mental health more accessible to members and their families. Our vision for a new kind of primary care at CVS Health wraps mental health services into a care team model designed to provide wraparound services for patients.


Partnerships are key to addressing the mental health issues facing our nation. During BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month and every month, CVS Health looks forward to partnering with plan sponsors to improve the mental health of our populations.


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