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Although the pandemic boosted virtual telemedicine and efforts to normalize the conversation around seeking help for mental health concerns, this progress has not addressed the root crisis: There aren’t enough mental health-care workers to treat everyone in need. That scarcity isn’t something the nation can solve overnight. “It takes eight years to make a social worker,” says Ken Duckworth, CMO for NAMI. Practitioners ranging from rural clinics to larger nonprofits like the National Alliance on Mental Illness had to up their services. “Isolation is hard on people,” Duckworth says. “Uncertainty is hard on people. Winter can be hard on people. People are in distress, and they’re having clinically significant experiences.” “It has become much more ordinary to seek help for mental health,” Duckworth says. “Going forward, people with mental health concerns may not be considered the other.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness’s helpline has seen an increase in calls. At the onset of the pandemic, the number of people phoning them tripled. This volume has waxed and waned with outbreaks and other tumultuous events this year, such as the presidential election, the continued perpetuation of violent white nationalism, and the social movements toward equality. NAMI has recruited additional volunteers to handle the uptick. Teletherapy and phone sessions have closed the distance between providers and their rural patients, but this new connectivity is far from a cure-all, Duckworth says.
There's evidence that mental health is worsening during the pandemic, especially in the most vulnerable populations — younger adults, isolated seniors, members of Black and Hispanic communities, and care providers, whether paid or unpaid. But anyone can be vulnerable. Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO at NAMI, said the effects of widespread mental health issues of all kinds may become the "next wave" of the pandemic. "We had a mental health crisis before the pandemic," Duckworth said. "And the pandemic has just accelerated uncertainty, economic distress. ... Nobody knows when they are going to get [COVID], or if they are going to get it. Human beings don't like that kind of uncertainty. Some do struggle more than others." Thousands of funerals have been canceled or downsized in Minnesota since the start of the pandemic. "That's just a really important ritual and many people have not been able to have that. And the grief process is going to take a lot longer," said Sue Abderholden, ED at NAMI Minnesota. "Telehealth is available. Would I say it's pervasive? I think it's working to become pervasive," said Daniel H. Gillison Jr., CEO of NAMI.
There are mutual benefits to celebrity disclosures, according to Katrina Gay, who oversees strategic entertainment-based partnerships at NAMI. “We click on these stories because they encourage discussion of topics that are often shamed or misunderstood,” she tells Yahoo Life.
“The combined emotional toll of fallout from the pandemic, racial injustice, a hyper-polarized political environment and uncertainty about the future has had a devastating impact on Americans' mental health in 2020.” NAMI’s Senior Manager of Youth and Young Adult Initiatives Jennifer Rothman answered live questions during this 1-hour call-in radio show.
Farhad Manjoo, opinion columnist, discusses the impending mental health crisis. According to a new Gallup survey, Americans’ assessment of our mental health is “worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades.” But now comes winter and the holidays, a time of special dread. Even in ordinary years, this season turns up the needle on stress. The pandemic winter promises a new layer to our mental anguish. “This year is very unlikely to be a good year for you if have had a history” of mental health issues, Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI, told me. “You’re going to have fewer connections, more isolation and more uncertainty.” Yet we might be as ill prepared for the mental toll of the pandemic as we were for its physical toll. The picture is bleak. Even before the pandemic, the U.S. had too few mental health professionals to meet the nation’s needs. The shortage is most dire in rural areas and in urban communities that are home to marginalized groups. Demand for treatment has skyrocketed, but supply has not. “It takes eight months to explode demand,” Duckworth told me, but several years to make a social worker.
While many people look forward to the holiday months, the “most wonderful time of the year” does not come without its fair share of stressful situations. From family to finances, this season can trigger anxiousness for some people, and exacerbate existing mental health issues. “Holidays are usually a hard time for some people, and part of that is the expectations and advertisement of these idyllic happy families. [This year] you have a higher amount of anxiety, depression, trauma, and substance use that’s happening even before the holidays begin,” Ken Duckworth, CMO at NAMI, told HuffPost. Duckworth said that people tend to become more anxious with unknowns, because that’s the “body’s response to uncertainty.” Notably, a main concern experts share is that more people will be socially distancing or quarantining during this typically celebratory season, contributing to greater feelings of isolation. “I think of resilience as coping strategies and strengths that you already have to overcome adversity. The ability to withstand stress is a kind of resilience,” Duckworth said. “You may experience more anxiety, more isolation, more sadness. Those things are true, but what can you do to work against them?” Of course, resilience looks different for every individual. It’s invaluable to cultivate feelings of social connectedness whether through joining online support groups, attending virtual gatherings, or even finding ways to be in nature.
Ben Smith admitted that being "intentional and aggressive" with therapy has helped him recover after his attempts in 2018 and 2019. When Ben Smith went on his first one-on-one date with "Bachelorette" Tayshia Adams, he revealed that he attempted suicide. While he admitted he shared a lot on the date, mental health experts applaud his willingness to talk about his experience with suicide. That’s why talking about suicidal thoughts and normalizing them can be so powerful. Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI, believes that Smith’s candor will empower many viewers who have had suicidal thoughts or made attempts, have eating disorders or feel overwhelmed. “The more you can normalize these common human problems, the better it is for people to feel less ashamed and more likely to reach out, to get help, to get connected and participate in a coping program to deal with this as opposed to hiding and silence and shame,” Duckworth told TODAY. “Many of the viewers watching will identify.” Duckworth said Smith sets a powerful example for others. “It’s inspiring for people to see someone actively owning their vulnerability and working to improve their coping,” he said. And, Smith’s experience shows people who attempted suicide recover and live full, happy lives. “Mental health treatment is often effective,” Duckworth said. “It's important to recognize that this is a moment of tremendous pain when people make this decision and this does not have to be the entire future of your life. This is a good example of that. So, this is a person who is on national TV, enjoying his dating life, owning his vulnerability.”
The TIME100 Video series on mental health includes conversations with advocates and thought leaders in the mental health field including Daniel H. Gillison, Jr., CEO of NAMI; Taraji P. Henson and Tracie Jenkins, Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation; and Matthew McConaughey.
Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO at NAMI talked about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on mental health during the holiday season, fielding questions and comments from listeners.
Like many others experiencing heightened struggles with mental health amid a turbulent year, Liu found the support she needed through teletherapy. The alternative to traditional in-person sessions has emerged as a critical resource during the pandemic, experts say, helping to reduce barriers to mental health treatment that previously may have deterred people from getting help. “I think of [teletherapy] as a dusty dirt road that no one wanted to take that is now a 16-lane highway,” said Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI. And with experts anticipating that the demand for mental health support will only keep rising even when the pandemic is over, teletherapy is probably here to stay, they say. “This is a ball rolling down a hill,” Duckworth said. “It’s got a lot of momentum. It would take something material to stop it.” But while providers and people in need of support have been buoyed by the positive impacts of teletherapy on mental health care, what those virtual services will look like in the post-covid-19 era remains “a big unknown,” Duckworth said.
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