Two years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for behavioral health care may be at an all-time high.

Depression, anxiety and other mental and behavioral health disorders are being diagnosed at rates much higher than years prior. For example, the number of adults who reported an anxiety or depression disorder grew from 36% to almost 42% between August 2020 and February 2021, and those who reported an unmet mental health care need increased from 9% to 12%, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).[i]

Recent studies show that increased isolation, lack of social engagement and financial struggles are driving these increases.

In North Carolina, things are no different. The state ranks 38th nationally in access to mental health care, and an estimated 51.9% of youth who undergo a major depressive episode do not receive the treatment they need. [ii] Out of its 100 counties, 27 have no psychiatrist at all and 69 are without any child psychiatrists.[iii]

The behavioral health crisis, which has been deemed a “second pandemic,” is disproportionately affecting the state’s rural areas, where residents often face even more barriers to care and inadequate access to behavioral health resources . According to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, this is an issue that is only expected to “worsen as we witness the pandemic’s full impact.”

To address the behavioral health crisis in North Carolina, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) is committing $1 million to improve access to quality behavioral health care treatment and services. Blue Cross NC is accepting funding proposals for community-based initiatives that improve access to high-quality, evidence-based treatment for adults and children with behavioral health disorders in rural and underserved communities. 

“We’re in a behavioral health emergency where our most socially vulnerable communities are being hardest hit,” said Dr. Nora Dennis, lead medical director of behavioral health & health equity at Blue Cross NC. “This isn’t a problem with a simple solution, and we can’t address this crisis by working in silos. This is a statewide emergency that demands a collaborative approach focusing on access, affordability and quality care."

This effort reflects Blue Cross NC’s commitment to improving the health and well-being of all North Carolinians by prioritizing a whole-person care, which addresses both physical and behavioral health. It’s part of the company’s work to drive health equity and advance diversity, equity and inclusion across the state.

“Our goal is to improve access to behavioral health care in these communities by 25% in five years,” said Dr. Dennis. “We believe we can achieve this by working with organizations dedicated to addressing medical deserts and improving health outcomes across the state.”

Non-profit organizations and public health entities in North Carolina can submit proposals between now and March 18, 2022 and must include a plan for sustainability beyond the funding period. More details on eligibility, the application process and informational sessions can be found here.

Beyond committing to this funding, Blue Cross NC will continue its work integrating behavioral health across the health care system. This includes bridging the gap between primary care doctors and behavioral health specialists by expanding its network of providers and ensuring their access to the resources and tools they need to treat their patients.


[i] Vahratian A, Blumberg SJ, Terlizzi EP, Schiller JS. Symptoms of Anxiety or Depressive Disorder and Use of Mental Health Care Among Adults During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, August 2020–February 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:490–494. DOI: icon