Behavioral health: Answering a growing cry

By Dr. Shawn West
Friday, May 03, 2019


For people with behavioral health conditions, getting the right care at the right time can make the difference between relief and silent suffering that can lead to more serious problems, including suicide. For Mental Health Month and beyond, Premera is reducing behavioral health stigma, improving access to care, and investing in local behavioral health programs.

Behavioral health, or mental health, is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It’s part of—not separate from—our physical health. If you’re depressed, you may not be able to effectively manage other health conditions, control your pain, and you may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, which can lead to addiction.


Reducing stigma
People who need behavioral health help often avoid it because they feel like they’re the only ones struggling and they’re afraid of being judged. About six in 10 adults in the United States who have a mental health condition don’t get help. If it’s substance abuse treatment, that number increases to nine in 10.

For most people suffering from depression, anxiety, or other conditions, safe, effective treatment is available. Whether you’re a receptionist or a provider, it’s everyone’s job in healthcare to make it safe for people to ask for help. Telling patients how common behavioral health conditions are helps in three ways:

  • Offers hope and reminds people that they aren’t alone
  • Builds a “no wrong door” approach to connecting people with the right treatment for them
  • Shows that behavioral health is as important as physical health

Increasing access to care
Reducing stigma is a good start. The next step is increasing access to care. Premera is making sure our networks have providers with expertise matched to patient needs, like trauma-informed care, transgender issues, or substance abuse.

We’re matching patients with behavioral health services to get the care they need at a time they need it. We’re offering support through virtual tools so that patients aren’t limited by time or place when they’re ready to get help. This can be especially helpful for rural or small practice providers. Since so much behavioral health care begins in the primary care office, these tools are designed to make providers’ jobs easier by supporting them with behavioral health expertise and integrating it with primary care.

Investing locally 
We know that many social problems, like family violence, drug abuse, and homelessness, can be tied back to untreated behavioral health conditions in our communities. We also know that solutions aren’t simple. That’s why Premera is investing more than $40 million over five years to support behavioral health efforts across Washington and Alaska through our Social Impact Program. We’re focusing on programs and services that help underserved communities, including people of color and low-income populations.

If you’re in healthcare, you’re in behavioral health, too. Let’s keep the conversation and movement going this month, and all year long.


Shawn West Portrait

Dr. Shawn West is a medical director at Premera Blue Cross.

Related Articles

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide prevention and resources for Premera customers

The public health issue of suicide is becoming alarmingly more common. Dr. Mia Wise discusses this rise in suicide rates and shares resources.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Understanding rural healthcare in Alaska

Premera’s Rural Health Initiative team has been traveling to communities in our home states, speaking with experts and community members about the issues they face.

Monday, December 10, 2018