Woman crying during an online therapy session

How Pandemic Stress Could Impact Behavioral Health Treatment    

While every long-term effect of the pandemic cannot yet be known, mental health professionals say the impacts on our collective psyche and mental health will be longstanding.  

Chronic stress has hit individuals and families at every turn throughout the pandemic.  

We’ve had to mourn, celebrate, play and connect in distant, impersonal ways. Financial stress due to unemployment or job uncertainty have also contributed to already difficult choices families have had to makeIsolated and without traditional support systems, many of us are feeling lost and disconnected from the familiar.  

As a result, cases of abuse have risen – as have unhealthy coping behaviors like substance use.  

Which makes the stress of the pandemic something that will likely return as a theme and influencing factor in behavioral health treatment in the long run.     

“I think there will be more discussion about social isolation, perhaps assessing how much social media patients are using because there is a correlation with higher usage and lower mood,” said Dr. Kristyn Gregory, D.O., medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

As treatment for behavioral health concerns like depression, anxiety and substance use disorder has become more reliant on virtual means during the pandemic, mental health providers will also have to have a keener eye for abuse, Gregory said.  

Without being in the room with a patient, it’s more difficult for providers to pick up on cues about someone’s habits – like smoking – or signals that someone may be a victim of abuse, for example.  

“If they are doing therapy from home, they may not feel comfortable discussing it in a session as the abuser may be present in the house,” Gregory said.  

While the questions behavioral health providers may ask to engage patients may not change in the future, there is no doubt that the factors and themes that influence treatment have changed, said Michelle Pargman, licensed therapist and employee assistance program and wellness clinician with New Directions.   

With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, individuals are beginning to transition back to more direct social contact with others – which may bring a host of new anxieties about being physically close to others, Pargman said. 

I think what hasn’t changed in behavioral health treatment is the importance of meeting someone where they are and holding space for what someone presents with, that no matter the external circumstances that impact the world around us,” Pargman said. “The importance of identifying a positive support system and resources and feeling that it is okay to actually utilize that system and resources, is timeless and important pre and post-pandemic. 


Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:

PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382

  • A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.

HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982

  • Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
  • Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at bcbsm.com/mentalhealth.   

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