Community-Based Mental Health Services Are Critical Both Now and Beyond COVID-19

A new CVS Health initiative uses a localized approach to increase mental health care accessibility and affordability, particularly for vulnerable populations like young adults and people of color.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a dramatic rise in the number of people experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental health issues across our country. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 51.5 million people in the United States live with a mental health condition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports these numbers have climbed dramatically during 2020 and the first part of 2021, as stress, anxiety and isolation have taken their toll—particularly for young adults.

Compared to all age groups, young adults are more likely to report substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. They are also the age group least likely to seek care. People of color are also struggling, reporting high instances of mental health symptoms and distress. It’s clear COVID-19 has disproportionally affected young adults and Black and Latinx communities, increasing the need to better support these populations—throughout the duration of this pandemic and beyond.

The increased levels of anxiety, stress and other mental health issues felt by underserved populations have made it clear our traditional mental health care system cannot keep up with this increased need. Mental health providers are experiencing great strain. Even though many have taken on many new patients and expanded available hours to accommodate this influx, there are still people who struggle to access care. Young adults also face the obstacle of navigating the mental health care system alone for the first time and can be uncertain about how to find a therapist, fill prescriptions, schedule appointments and finance healthcare expenses.

In response to this increased demand and the need to make the mental health care model more accessible and affordable, CVS Health has launched a behavioral health pilot initiative, currently in Florida, Texas, New Jersey and Pennsylvania HealthHUB locations. These pilots can redefine how people access mental health care in a variety of ways:

Providing personalized, local support: CVS Health is providing individualized local support through licensed therapists, who can provide mental health services and connect those who are most vulnerable with community providers. Those services include mental health assessments, referrals, counseling and personalized care plans.

Streamlining the mental health journey: Care is centralized and personalized through our HealthHUB therapists, who are available both in-person and virtually at the patient’s convenience.

Improving affordability: CVS Health aims to improve the affordability of mental health services by keeping costs low. This behavioral health offering is covered by many major insurers and employee assistance programs, which makes it a lower-cost option compared to traditional forms of therapy.

Increasing access: By providing community-based, low-cost mental health services, CVS Health is offering new access points for populations who are struggling with increased stress and pressure, helping people to avoid costly emergency room visits that can add unnecessary dollars to health care spending.

While these offerings are available to everyone, CVS Health’s aim is to improve the mental health experience for vulnerable populations, particularly young people. With this age group’s greater likelihood of facing mental health struggles, we are putting affordability and convenience at the forefront, to ultimately get more young people the help they need.

Oftentimes, we assume that younger people are generally healthy and happy, which can contribute to critical care gaps. In this pandemic environment, young adults have faced a restricted social life, lost economic opportunities and missed life milestones, all of which have contributed to increased suffering. The mental health effects of this pandemic are not likely to go away even when our country reaches widespread vaccination. To move toward better mental and physical health for all people, we must work together to offer more accessible support and resources. These are the keys to a brighter, healthier future.

To learn more about CVS Health’s available mental health offerings, please visit the web site.

Author Information

Daniel Knecht, M.D., M.B.A., is vice president, Clinical Product at CVS Health with responsibility for clinical product ideation, concept development and testing, optimization, launch, performance and measurement in collaboration with key stakeholders. He was previously vice president of Health Strategy and Innovation, Medical Affairs, where he worked across CVS Health business lines to develop and execute clinical strategies to address unmet health needs. Knecht is an associate clinical professor at Mount Sinai West in New York City where he still sees patients.