July 25, 2022

Behavioral Health: Stopping Stigma and Showing the Way to Help

Kelly O’Reilly, President and CEO, Ohio Association of Health Plans

Like many in the health-care industry, our member plans are deeply invested in meeting the needs of the moment in behavioral-health care. Two factors — a rise in behavioral-health needs and a growing willingness to seek treatment — have come together to create an unprecedented demand for care.

I’m excited to talk about two new ways OAHP is engaged: our membership in the Ohio Opioid Education Alliance and new “road map” for accessing behavioral-health care.

You may recall the Alliance from its 2018-2021 “Denial, Ohio” informational plan — a series of advertisements urging Ohioans to talk to their kids about prescription opioids and properly dispose of unused drugs. Now, the Alliance is building on that successful effort with “Beat the Stigma,” focused not just on substance use disorder but also mental illness. Advertisements and news stories are spreading the message that behavioral-health disorders aren’t character flaws or evidence or moral failure; they are biological diseases rooted largely in genetics, childhood trauma and other factors people can’t control.

Stigma around addiction and mental illness is worse than just cruel and inaccurate; it compounds the damage by discouraging people from seeking treatment that could help them get better. OAHP is pleased to support “Beat the Stigma.” Ohio’s opioid epidemic hasn’t gone away, even as the lingering pandemic has made our collective mental health worse.

All of this makes me especially pleased to introduce our new Behavioral Health Treatment Road Map: As we manage to diminish stigma and encourage more people to seek help, they need to know how and where to go about it. Most people aren’t familiar with the system. Seeking psychological or addiction help for the first time is scary.

The road map starts by offering four options of simple, concrete steps someone can take to start the process. It then continues with information on what happens in addiction or mental-health treatment, how to prepare for the first appointment and what to expect as treatment progresses.

A team of experts from health plans as well as providers collaborated for many months to make the guide both information-packed and easy to understand, and I’m confident it will help people change lives for the better — their own or a loved one’s.

We’re taking a belt-and-suspenders approach to getting in front of as many people as possible. It’s available on, of course, but also on the individual sites of every member plan — that’s the first place many people will turn when they’re ready to get help, and we want the roadmap to be easy to find. In addition, we’ll invite medical providers to keep stacks of hard copies available in their offices.

Most of us would never make someone feel like a moral failure for not getting their high blood pressure under control, but too many see behavioral health differently. Here’s hoping the work of the Alliance and the Behavioral Health Treatment Roadmap make a meaningful difference.