Bringing a Whole-Health Approach to the Youth Mental Health Crisis
Depression, anxiety, loneliness — these concerns can be difficult even for adults to manage. As young people increasingly experience these and other mental health conditions, they need a range of support.
Youth mental health was a crisis even before the COVID-19 pandemic and has only gotten worse. The pandemic created a unique set of circumstances for young people, such as isolation from peers, adapting to virtual learning, and disruption of their daily routines. They also struggled with grief over loss of loved ones and overall fears associated with living through a pandemic. The devastating impact of the pandemic, exacerbated by lack of typical activities, support systems and coping mechanisms, can be associated with a steep rise in behavioral health conditions among youth.
Elevance Health is focused fully and compassionately on the whole health of consumers. There is a compounding need for youth mental health services right now, and it’s expected to continue to grow. The insights we’ve gained from listening to young people and from our youth behavioral health data are guiding our efforts to improve access to services, provide better resources, and tailor support.
While people of all ages experienced increases in behavioral health diagnoses in 2021 compared to 2020, the most striking increases came from children and adolescents, according to a recent Elevance Health review of member claims from its affiliated commercial and Medicaid health plans data1. Younger children born after 2012 (Generation Alpha) and adolescents born between 1997 and 2012 (Generation Z) had significant increases, 19% and 11% respectively.
Behavioral Health Diagnoses Among Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults
Children, adolescents, and young adults experienced substantial increases in behavioral health disorders and developmental delays tied to the impact of the pandemic. Our data also revealed high rates of trauma and stressor-related disorders, as well as anxiety, in children and adolescents in 2021, exceeding 2019 pre-pandemic levels. Among younger children and adolescents, adjustment disorders increased 18% and behavioral disorders of childhood increased 15%. There was also a sharp rise among adolescents and young adults with eating disorders (38%), suicide and self-injury (28%), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (23%).
Expanding Network of Behavioral Health Providers
This increased need for supportive care comes at a time of national concern over availability of behavioral healthcare providers.
To help meet this demand, Elevance Health is working to improve access to care and expand our network of behavioral health providers. We helped train thousands of providers in virtual care delivery to address the pandemic-induced surge in telehealth and to give people additional flexibility to access care.
We’re developing and supporting initiatives across the country to grow the behavioral healthcare workforce and address health equity. Health Equity Scholarships, in which students commit to work in rural or underserved communities after graduation, include behavioral health studies. Institutions like Martin University, Indiana's only predominantly Black institution (PBI) serving adult learners, are expanding their educational offerings in the field as well. A $100,000 grant from the Elevance Health Foundation supports a revised Community Psychology master’s program at Martin University aimed to increase the workforce of Black counselors, providing more opportunities to diversify the workforce and for people to receive support from a counselor that meets their preferences.
Whole-health Approach to Behavioral Healthcare
Only by taking a whole-health approach to physical, behavioral, and social needs can we make the best difference with consumers.
Caring for the whole health of children and families includes connecting them to behavioral healthcare tailored to their unique circumstances. No one organization can do that work alone, so we embark on initiatives and collaborations to expand access to mental health resources and support. Our partnerships with community and school-based programs include Shine Light on Depression, The Trevor Project, and Reach Out and Read.
In addition to partnerships, Elevance Health’s Beacon Health Options also offers care management programs for children, adolescents, young adults, and families, including:
- Integrated Family Care and Support (IFCS) — A strength-based program designed to keep families together and safely at home. Eligible families are typically referred from their current system of care (child welfare, education, or juvenile justice) with the goal of connecting families to quality behavioral health services and other resources within the community to reduce involvement from the referring partner.
- Voluntary Care Management (VCM) — For children and individuals under age 18 with a primary diagnosis of an emotional, behavioral, or substance use disorder who can’t access the services they need. The child and family’s needs are assessed, and a care plan is developed to help achieve their goals.
- Intensive Care Coordination (ICC) — For youth up to age 18 who are either at risk of, or currently in, an out-of-home behavioral health treatment facility. Families learn how to self-advocate and navigate mental and behavioral health systems to achieve better quality outcomes
- Child Psychiatry Access Programs (CPAPs) — Provide quick access to psychiatric consultation to primary care physicians, pediatricians, family medicine doctors, and emergency room physicians and facilitate referrals for ongoing behavioral health care. Currently, Beacon operates programs in Connecticut (ACCESS Mental Health for Youth) and Massachusetts (MCPAP).
Leading experts in pediatric health have declared a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health. Our data not only reveals a rise in mental health and substance use disorder conditions in young people, it also reinforces our focus to help reverse the trend. We know combating this crisis requires a multi-faceted, whole-health approach. We’re building on our efforts, expanding our support, and reimagining healthcare for the future.
1The Elevance Health internal analysis of commercial and Medicaid claims data was conducted in May 2022 to review mental health diagnosis prevalence and trends in the United States from 2019- 2021. The claims data was collected by age group and stratified by generational cohorts.
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