The cultural shift to social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak has changed much of daily life in the U.S. and around the globe. This new reality, aimed at protecting health, can create health challenges of its own.
Economic uncertainty, limited activities and health concerns are leaving many feeling isolated and on edge. These new anxieties are added to the substantial health risks of loneliness that we know are commonplace—and can impact anyone.
More than two in 10 report loneliness or social isolation, and 25 million people over age 60 suffer from chronic loneliness. Loneliness has been shown to increase stress and lead to chronic inflammation, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. In fact, one study even found the effects of loneliness are equivalent to smoking about 15 cigarettes per day. Additionally, feelings of loneliness can lead to lower job performance.
For more than a year, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) has been encouraging social connectedness through live, weekly webinars designed for members and employers offering inspiration and motivation from the comfort of home. The 15-20 minute Blue Cross® Virtual Well-BeingSM webinars focus on a host of topics including financial wellness, loneliness, caring for the caregiver, healthy eating and alcohol awareness, to name a few.
“We know social support is crucial to our overall well-being. Loneliness and social isolation can affect physical and mental health,” said Cindy Bjorkquist, M.S., director of health & well-being, BCBSM. “The Blue Cross® Virtual Well-Being program provides research-based information to educate members and help keep them socially connected.”
Each week, members can log in and watch a webinar of their choice at no cost, with as many as 2,200 people tuning in for each session.
“In times like this, we need to focus on remaining connected and focused on our well-being,” added Bjorkquist.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies across the country are improving access to care through expanded telehealth services and, in many cases, specifically enhancing telehealth access to those who are struggling emotionally. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Capital Blue Cross, Florida Blue and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey are among the BCBS companies offering no-cost virtual behavioral healthcare.