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Connecting with the right care for mental health

This post was co-written by Ish Bhalla and Winston Lane


Mental health conditions are different for everybody. For some, they show up as periodic moments of stress and anxiety. For others, they can take the form of a crisis. And then there are those for whom mental health is a struggle they live with every day.

Figuring out where you “fit” on the spectrum of mental health is not always easy. But, the first step to finding a solution is to shake off the shame and stigma associated with mental health – because you are far from alone.

According to NIMH, 57.8 million people live with a mental illness in the U.S. In North Carolina, 1 in 4 adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression.

If you or a loved one needs help, but you aren’t sure where to start, we’ve got you covered. Here are some guidelines to help you identify signs of a mental health issue and find the right resources to help you feel your best.

Physical signs of a mental health problem:

  • Feeling tired, low energy
  • Difficulty sleeping / sleep changes
  • Appetite changes
  • Decline in personal care/hygiene
  • Odd or uncharacteristic behavior

Emotional signs of a mental health problem:

  • Feeling sad
  • Excessive fears or worries
  • Withdrawal from friends or previously enjoyed activities
  • Difficulty with regular tasks, changes in grades/work performance
  • Anger or irritability

How are you feeling?

1. Anxious, depressed or both

There are varying degrees and reasons for anxiety and depression. They can be born out of work stresses, personal relationships, or traumatic experiences. They can be the result of a symptom of an underlying health issue or simply exist for reasons we can’t explain.

Here are a few lifestyle changes that help ease feelings of anxiety and / or depression:

  • Using guided meditation apps
  • Exercising regularly
  • Practicing deep breathing and grounding techniques
  • Connecting to nature
  • Making plans with friends (even when you don’t feel like it)

When that’s not enough, it may be time to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. Recommendations from friends and family, or referrals from primary care doctors, can be a great way to start your search. Mental wellness is a journey, so never stop exploring your options.

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine is a free, nationwide peer-support service providing information, referrals and support to people living with a mental health condition, their family members and caregivers and providers. Call 800-950-NAMI (800-950-6264) or text 62640.
  • NAMI NC is specific to North Carolina and provides information and a compassionate ear, Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 800-451-9682, text 919-999-6527 or email
  • Care Navigation services are available to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) members1 of all ages, from children to geriatric members. Blue Cross NC members can call 800-755-0798 or log in to Blue Connect and fill out a mental health referral form. If you choose to complete the form, our Care Navigation team will contact you to help you find a provider or resources to meet your needs. Sometimes, you may have to try a few providers until you find one that aligns with your needs and expectations. Blue Cross NC care navigators will help make sure you find the right therapist or psychiatrist for long-term support.

2. Lonely

Social relationships are so vital that you can become physically and emotionally ill without them. The US Surgeon General issued an advisory in 2023 on the threat of the loneliness epidemic – citing health risks on par with smoking.

For older populations in North Carolina, the impact of loneliness is profound. Older people are more likely to live alone or have experienced the loss of family and friends. Research has consistently demonstrated a link between loneliness and higher mortality rates and dementia.

Here are some resources for how to stay connected to others for greater happiness, health and self-esteem:

  • At Hopeline you can have a confidential conversation with a person from North Carolina. They’ll listen as you talk about any feelings you’re experiencing and offer support and advice.
  • There are therapists who specialize in chronic loneliness. Mental Health Match can find someone in your area who can help you overcome persistent feelings of isolation.
  • For older adults, the World Health Organization has easy tips to put you on a path to a less lonely life.
  • Social Work License Map is also a great resource for connecting older adults to volunteering opportunities, companionship and transportation.

3. In distress or suicidal

In North Carolina, 1,448 people died by suicide in 2021. If you, or someone you know, is thinking about suicide or facing a life-threatening crisis, immediately call 911 and ask to speak with a Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) officer who can quickly step in to assist.

Kids are particularly at risk for suicide. It is now the leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 14 in North Carolina. Suicidal thoughts and tendencies emerge during moments of extreme stress and hopelessness, so it’s absolutely critical to find support before tragedy strikes.

Here are some places where you can get help:

4. Suffering from PTSD

Anyone can be affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but it is especially prevalent in the military community. About 720,000 veterans currently call North Carolina home, and the transition to civilian life can be extremely difficult for some. According to the Wounded Warrior Project, 1 in 3 veterans lives with PTSD.

PTSD symptoms include:

  • Re-experiencing trauma through flashbacks and bad dreams
  • Avoiding thoughts, people, places or activities that serve as reminders
  • Having heightened emotional reactions, especially when startled or stressed
  • Finding it difficult to sleep
  • Experiencing negative thoughts and feelings of guilt
  • Losing interest in hobbies

Stress and trauma from combat can leave emotional scars, but there are ways to heal. Here are mental health resources for veterans:

Resources for those who are uninsured or covered by Medicaid

Resources for Blue Cross NC members seeking mental health support

  • Log on to our MyStrength app for a comprehensive program to relieve stress and depression, ease sleep and more.
  • Find support for the transition back home from an inpatient admission for a mental health crisis through our Hospital to Home (H2H) program.
  • Our Care Navigation support simplifies the process of finding mental health support and helps members get care quickly. Members have 2 options to request a referral: use the Find Care tool in Blue Connect or call the Care Navigation line at 800-755-0798.

Peace of mind for all North Carolinians

At Blue Cross NC, we believe high-quality mental health services should be available to all. We are working across all 100 counties, at the local and state level, to expand whole-person care and build a stronger, healthier NC.

authors photo

Ish Bhalla, MD

Ish Bhalla, MD

Dr. Ish Bhalla is the associate medical director of behavioral health value transformation at Blue Cross NC. He's a graduate of Case Western Reserve University (BS), University of Toledo College of Medicine (MD), and UCLA (MS in Health Policy and Management). Dr. Bhalla completed residency and fellowship training at Yale University, is board certified in Adult and Forensic Psychiatry, and is an alum of the National Clinician Scholars Program at UCLA. He has a strong interest in the delivery of value based behavioral health care.

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  1. Effective March 15, 2023, Care Navigation applies to our: Commercial (Large and Small Groups, Individual, Affordable Care Act, Administrative Services Only, State Health Plan, Grandfathered plans, and Federal Employee Program (FEP) members.

    Medicare Advantage members: These members can utilize the Care Navigation Services.

    Healthy Blue and Experience Health members will be directed to resources who can assist them with their behavioral health needs.