Distraught therapy client

COVID-19: Finding Mental Health Resources for Underserved Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic has set the stage for a behavioral health crisis. Social isolation, along with sudden unemployment, disrupts normal routines and adds to stress – leading to a growing need for mental health support and substance abuse programs. At the same time, socioeconomic barriers create a lack of access to care at a time when minority communities are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Find Free or Low-Cost Mental Health Care

Seeking help for mental health issues starts with finding a provider. Individuals with private insurance or Medicaid should contact their health plan or primary care doctor to find a behavioral health professional to discuss treatment and the associated costs. For those in need of financial assistance, there are several low or no-cost options available through community agencies. Additionally, many therapists offer discounts or fees on a sliding scale to make services more affordable.

For some people, geographic location or lack of transportation may prevent them from connecting with a behavioral health provider. In these instances, telehealth or other virtual services may be available. The pandemic has caused a shift from in-person visits to secure video chats and phone calls. Be sure to ask your provider about their telehealth options.

Individuals without insurance can access free or low-cost mental health services through the following:

  • Community Mental Health: Michigan Department of Health and Human Services oversees community-based programs located in counties throughout the state.
  • Federally Qualified Health Centers: These facilities provide health care for people with mild to moderate mental illness. A full directory of Michigan-based centers can be found here.
  • Free or Low-Cost Care Locations: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan’s Help with Care directory lists local free or low-cost facilities that provide dental and behavioral services. It’s a regional directory that can be downloaded or ordered by mail, at no charge.
  • Safety Net Clinics: Many statewide clinics connected to non-profits, community organizations and faith groups can offer mental health services or patient referrals. Each year, Blue Cross helps to fund these clinics through a recurring grant program. For more information, click here.

Understanding Insurance Coverage Options

Individuals with employer-based health insurance may have additional resources available to them. Benefit packages may provide added incentives such as physical and mental health programs for workers and their families. They can also receive additional information or referrals to external resources.

If a person is uninsured due to a recent job loss, they may be eligible for a continuation of their employer-based benefits. This is called the Consolidation Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly known as COBRA. Individuals may also be able to purchase insurance through the federally operated health insurance marketplace found at www.healthcare.gov or by calling 800-318-2596. One can also check if they or their family qualifies for income-based coverage from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

For more information on health insurance in Michigan, visit www.mi211.org. A person can also call 844-875-9211, dial 211 or text your zip code to 898211.

About the Author: Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker is an associate medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

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Photo credit: SDI Productions

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