CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield breaks down behavioral health barriers

This content is sponsored by CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield.

Behavioral health is a comprehensive term that serves as an umbrella encompassing a wide range of mental health and substance use-related issues.

Unlike traditional models that may compartmentalize physical health and mental well-being, the concept of behavioral health recognizes the interaction between one’s behaviors, emotions and overall health.

“Mental health is something every one of us has to some degree or another,” said Oleg Tarkovsky, the director of behavioral health services at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst), the largest not-for-profit health plan in the mid-Atlantic region.

“It’s our ability to deal with day-to-day ups and downs, and ultimately, for most people, it’s the ability to persevere through tough times,” Tarkovsky added.

Mental illness, on the other hand, is a set of diagnostic criteria for which you can get diagnosed with a mental disorder, such as major depressive disorder, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

“I think it’s important to define what we mean by the words behavioral health,” Tarkovsky said. “Often we use those words along with mental health and mental illness somewhat interchangeably, so I think it’s important to give some definition to those terms.”

According to Tarkovsky, the state of behavioral health in the D.C. metro region is “fairly strong.”

While there are extreme cases of mental health issues highlighted in news stories, those are often anomalies as opposed to a consistent pattern of behavior across the whole population.

“If you’re able to wake up in the morning and fulfill the obligations of your role every day, whether you’re a parent at work or a student at school, most people are doing relatively well,” Tarkovsky said.

There are many contributing factors when it comes to the state of behavioral health.

Human beings are social animals, so a lot of what happens around society can potentially be viewed as a contributing factor.

“Your family, your colleagues, your friends and what you see on television influences your life every day,” Tarkovsky said. “You almost can think of it as being contagious, like when people around you are feeling down, you can’t help but to be sucked into that emotion.”

Behavioral health barriers

There are a number of barriers that exist in communities nationwide that may stand in the way of individuals being able to access behavioral health services.

Stigma is a common barrier that is found in most places, including in the D.C. area.

“It’s the idea that we don’t want other people to know about our mental health because it makes us feel weak,” Tarkovsky said. “It makes us feel judged in some way, and nobody really likes that.”

According to Tarkovsky, social stigma has decreased over the years, especially recently.

“We accept that people need to get their mental health addressed, especially if they have a diagnosable illness,” Tarkovsky said. “That individual stigma where the person sort of judges themselves is still around, however.”

Equity is another barrier.

Not everyone – depending on their race, gender or socioeconomic background – can access behavioral health treatment and services in the same way financially.

There is also transportation.

If the only therapist someone can find is 30 minutes away, and they don’t have a reliable way to get there, it’s going to be difficult.

“CareFirst has thought a lot about these barriers, and we have tried to make it as easy and as accessible as possible for our members to get high quality behavioral health services.” Tarkovsky said.

For example, CareFirst offers members telehealth appointments so they can see a provider using video technology without having to travel somewhere.

Additionally, there are specific populations who need a slightly different approach to their treatment, including kids, adolescents and people struggling with addiction disorders.

That’s why it’s critical to have specific programs staffed with the right clinicians to be able to address those disorders in those populations.

“CareFirst, over the last several years, has been building both the network of those providers as well as different modalities in which our members can access those clinicians,” Tarkovsky said.

Read more: CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield invests in behavioral health, distributes nearly $8 million in grants – WTOP News

Moving in to 2024, the field of psychology and psychiatry is continuing to grow rapidly.

Tarkovsky said he’s encouraged to see different technologies, medications and approaches being used in new and progressive ways.

“A lot of times in this field, it’s easy to take your eyes off the ball and have things roll back down the hill,” Tarkovsky explained. “You have to constantly be vigilant about making sure that all of the services are of high quality and are delivered in an equitable and affordable way.”

To see behavioral health resource available through CareFirst, visit

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