For some, the COVID-19 crisis is also a mental health crisis

Published June 12, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a threat to our physical health, but also to our mental health. Dr. Ken Duckworth, who oversees behavioral health for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBS Massachusetts) and is also chief medical officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, sees firsthand the signs of increasing anxiety, depression and addiction.

The combination of social isolation because of stay-at-home orders, economic insecurity, the stress of caring for others, especially for first responders, and continued uncertainty about a return to “normal” are already taking a toll on our mental health. A recent report1 from the Well Being Trust warned that the U.S. may even see an uptick in deaths by suicide and drugs and alcohol as the pandemic’s effects unfold. Those who already have behavioral health conditions or who already experience disparities in health and economic status may be at greatest risk.

Hundreds of thousands are reaching out for help

Teletherapy, such as video or phone visits for behavioral healthcare, has opened a window of hope in a time when many healthcare professionals can't see patients in person. BCBS Massachusetts has eliminated co-pays for these services and quickly added nearly 400 additional clinicians to its network to increase access. Since expanding coverage in mid-March 2020, the health plan has logged nearly half a million teletherapy visits. For comparison, in February, BCBS Massachusetts received about 200 claims a day for telehealth visits. That number has climbed to nearly 40,000 a day for both medical and behavioral health claims.

COVID-19's impact may last

Duckworth says that the uptick in teletherapy use is a good sign. It means people realize they need help and are seeking treatment. BCBS Massachusetts has worked quickly to expand access and accommodate the current surge. But he cautions that the impact of COVID-19 may last much longer for some than for others. Some of the pandemic's impacts, such as post-traumatic stress disorder among first responders, may not even emerge until months or years later. Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and addiction are understandable reactions at a time like this, he says, and no one needs to feel ashamed—or wait—to ask for help.

Learn more about how Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts is responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts is a licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, an association of 36 independent, locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield Companies.

Well Being Trust is a national foundation dedicated to advancing the mental, social and spiritual health of the nation.


1. Petterson, Steve et al. “Projected Deaths of Despair During the Coronavirus Recession.” Well Being Trust. May 8, 2020. WellBeingTrust.org.