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Blue & You Foundation Tackles Behavioral Health Issues.

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Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield offices in Little Rock (Michael Pirnique)

In the United States, behavioral health conditions have increased since 2014 and have grown more rapidly since the COVID-19 epidemic.

Mental health issues have significant impacts on the American economy, including workers’ productivity and health care expenses. Mental illness can cause over 200 million lost workdays and more than $15 billion in lost productivity.

In Arkansas, the problem of behavioral health is one of the most severe issues. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that:

  • The proportion of adults in Arkansas suffering from symptoms of depression or anxiety is more than the average for the nation (40.4 percent against. 37.7 percent within the United States).
  • The rate of suicide in Arkansas is four times more than the nation’s average. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for teens (ages 12- 17) all across the United States.
  • There is a void demand for mental health services in Arkansas. The state’s population is 34.4 percent of the need for professionals in mental health is being met in Arkansas, and 65.7 percent of teenagers who had a major depressive episode didn’t receive mental health services, which is more than the average for all of America, 58.5 percent. Most Arkansas people who have mental illness are not receiving medical treatment for mental illness.
  • Obstacles to accessing treatment for behavioral health issues are Costs (of the adults of Arkansas who don’t receive mental health services, 49.5% reported not receiving care due to the cost), Inadequate awareness of the existence of behavioral health issues and their symptoms, insufficient awareness of the accessible resources that are affordable to help patients suffering from symptoms, stigmatization associated with receiving treatment for behavioral health and the lack of health services for behavioral health.

“No doubt, mental health conditions like depression, stress, anxiety, and addiction are common at work,” said Curtis Barnett, the president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “Not only are these illnesses impacting the general wellbeing and health of the employees, but employers are also feeling the negative effects through absences, lower productivity, and higher cost of health care. Studies have shown that the annual cost of health care is three and a half times higher for people suffering from a behavioral health issue than individuals who do not have those ailments. The absence of days can cost employers upwards of $5,000 per employee annually, and turnover could be as high as $6,000 per employee each year.”

As per Deloitte Insights, the severity of mental health issues is directly related to an increase in suicides, overdose deaths, or premature deaths. According to an analysis by The Well Being Trust and The Robert Graham Center, the COVID-19 epidemic could cause 75,000 more deaths from addiction to alcohol and drugs and suicide in 2029.

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The Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas -the foundation for charitable purposes established and supported through Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield to improve health and wellness in Arkansas. It has been awarded $5.29 million worth of grants to programs to improve the health of people with behavioral disorders in Arkansas.

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 funding is focused on eight Arkansas programs run by established institutions to address the increasing problems with mental health that are plaguing the state. To meet the requirements of the Arkansans, the grants fund programs that address health issues at every stage of life, from adolescence and on into adulthood. They also assist in increasing the number of professionals in behavioral health working in communities.

“For several years, there has been a growing problem with mental health within our state and the nation, which is now aggravated by the epidemic,” Barnett said. “We acknowledge that the challenges are daunting for those who require treatment for behavioral health. Family members and patients are confronted with an environment characterized by stigma, fragmented treatment, cost-intensive care, and a shortage of healthcare professionals. Mental health issues are undiagnosed and treated, and people and their families are struggling and experiencing despair. Everyone deserves to have hope, and we were motivated by the desire to give some hope to these individuals and families through making a substantial investment in initiatives to improve the health of Arkansans.”

The programs that are awarded Blue & You Foundation Health grants are intended to:

  • Ensure children and their families’ long-term health and wellbeing by standardizing early intervention strategies and addressing the underlying causes of mental health disorders.
  • Increase the staff of behavioral health professionals and improve the integration of the behavioral health field into primary treatment.
  • Remove barriers to treatment like the stigma that has remained for a long time the need for treatment in the field of behavioral health.

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