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Breaking stigmas with education: FAQ on mental health and substance use disorders

As a psychiatrist, I often come across confusion around my field of work: behavioral health.

In my experience, people want to learn more, but don’t know where to start. People wonder, what do I ask? What do I need to know? What if I sound ignorant asking?

I thought it would be helpful to collect some of these frequently asked questions. 

As they say, knowledge is power. Together, equipped with more information, we can keep breaking down stigmas and focus on getting people the care they need.

What does "behavioral health" mean?

Let’s start with basic terms. Most often I see “mental health” used in communications. That surely isn’t wrong. But “mental health” only talks about one part of treating the whole person. We use “behavioral health” because it encompasses both mental health and substance use disorders.

Are behavioral health disorders common?

Yes, they’re very common. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans will have a behavioral health disorder in a given year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Does behavioral health impact other diseases?

Behavioral health disorders can’t be viewed in isolation. Physical health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer can have worse results when co-occurring with behavioral health disorders.

Simply put: mind and body are connected. People are healthier when their mental health and substance use disorders are treated along with their other medical conditions. Also, many people prefer to receive care for all their health conditions – of the mind and the body – in one place.

Your primary care doctor can help you manage this. He or she should help you navigate all of your health concerns. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, use our Find A Doctor tool to find one near you.

Is mental health just depression?

Definitely not. There are many mental health disorders and they range from mild to severe.

A short list includes:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Eating disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Do behavioral health disorders only affect adults?

Behavioral health disorders can impact anyone of any age, race, religion, gender, or socioeconomic status. So yes, kids have them, too.

But, access to care is limited. In a 2016 national survey, more than 70% of parents in North Carolina with children with mental health conditions reported that their children did not receive treatment.

How do I know if I have a behavioral health condition?

There are a variety of ways you may know you’re facing challenges. But sometimes we don’t see it on our own.

Think about how you feel and your moods over time.

  • Do you often feel sad or down?
  • Do you worry about your use of alcohol?
  • Do you have difficulty with sleep or concentration? While not always genetic, is there any family history of behavioral health conditions?

In the end, the best way to address this question is to speak to your doctor. Your physician can partner with you to get you the right care. There’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Your primary care doctor is there to help you in all aspects of your health.

What does Blue Cross NC, a health insurer, have to do with behavioral health?

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina’s (Blue Cross NC) mission is to improve the health and well-being of our customers and communities. We do not take that lightly. It is a very serious undertaking. Along with our mission, our vision is to be the model for transforming the health system through commitments to quality, affordability, and exceptional experience.

To reach these goals, addressing the harmful effects of behavioral health is vital.

In the current system, our members are often not getting the care they need. They’re also facing a fragmented experience. The toll for our members and society is dire, proofed by growing rates of drug overdoses and suicide in North Carolina.

We’re working hard to integrate behavioral health in the rest of the health care system. This should be without stigma or special exceptions to access care. People should know where to go for treatment and to incorporate their behavioral health status with their primary care provider.

authors photo

Kate Hobbs Knutson, MD, MPH

Kate Hobbs Knutson, MD, MPH

Dr. Kate Hobbs Knutson was the chief of behavioral health at Blue Cross NC from 2018 to 2020.

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