Find Your Local NAMI
Call the NAMI Helpline at
Or in a crisis, text "NAMI" to 741741
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.
The social isolation of the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many Americans. But the impact has been especially severe on teenagers, who rely on their friends to navigate the maze and pressures of high school life. A recent study of 3,300 high school students found that nearly one-third reported feeling unhappy or depressed in recent months. Since the start of the pandemic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has heard from many young adults experiencing anxiety and depression, which the organization attributes partly to social isolation. The group has cautioned parents and teachers to look for warning signs, including severe risk-taking behavior, significant weight loss, excessive use of drugs or alcohol and drastic changes in mood. And whenever possible, teenagers need to see their friends. “Kids need time to be kids again without thinking about all the worries going on in the world,” said Jennifer Rothman, senior manager of youth and young adult initiatives at NAMI.
COVID-19 is depressing enough, but mental health experts expect to see a rise in seasonal affective disorder (SAD), too. The article provides tips on how to cope. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI, explains that seasonal affective disorder is now classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a subset of major depression, officially known as “major depression disorder with a seasonal pattern.” Moreover, the effects of SAD tend to go away once the seasons change. Duckworth says this is unusual, as most triggers for depression such as loss of a loved one or stress tend to be unpredictable and harder to control. “If you have noticed that you have a persistent pattern of struggling in November, December, or January, and you live in a northern climate that’s light on sunshine, that is a pattern that is likely to repeat,” Duckworth says. “There’s not that many psychiatric conditions that you know when the trigger is coming.” Duckworth notes one treatment that is uniquely suited to treating SAD is light therapy, where people use light boxes to replicate the impact that sunlight has on the human body.
Rulennis knew that her brother was in crisis and that he needed psychiatric care. Laws in Pennsylvania and many other states make it difficult for a family to get psychiatric care for someone who doesn't want it; it can only be imposed on the person if he or she poses an immediate threat, says Angela Kimball, national director of advocacy and public policy at NAMI. "Law enforcement comes in and exerts a threatening posture," Kimball says. "For most people, that causes them to be subdued. But if you're experiencing a mental illness, that only escalates the situation." People who have a family member with mental illness should learn what local resources are available and plan for a crisis, Kimball advises. But she acknowledges that many of the services she frequently recommends, such as crisis hotlines or special response teams for mental health, aren't available in most parts of the country. "Dialing 911 will accelerate a response by emergency personnel, most often police," she says. "This option should be used for extreme crisis situations that require immediate intervention. These first responders may or may not be appropriately trained and experienced in de-escalating psychiatric emergencies." The National Alliance on Mental Illness continues to advocate for more resources for families dealing with a mental health crisis.
The fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr., 27, in Philadelphia is raising questions about what the officers involved were told before arriving at Wallace's home and whether police officers should respond to mental health crises. About 2,700 of the nation's roughly 18,000 police departments have some or all of their officers go through crisis intervention training (CIT), known as the "Memphis model," which aims to help police recognize mental health problems and get people to treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Angela Kimball, national director of advocacy and public policy at NAMI, said the U.S. needs to focus on intervening further upstream. "When you look at the lack of access to mental health care, it’s clear that that is contributing to people experiencing crises — many of which are inherently avoidable if you get people the right care at the right time," Kimball said. "We shouldn’t wait until somebody is experiencing a crisis. It’s not good for the person. It’s not good for their family. It's not good for the community. And it’s not the job law enforcement signed up for."
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the stay-at-home measures and disruptions to daily life that aimed to slow the spread of the virus and save lives led many public health specialists to worry that the nation also could see an uptick in suicides, drug overdoses and domestic violence. Nine months later, those grim predictions look like they're coming true. "There is a mental health wave to this pandemic," Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI, told ABC News. "We as a species don't do well with uncertainty." People age 18 to 25 may be the most affected group, Duckworth explained. "We need to take a look at the age impact," Duckworth added. "In the age where identity is developed, young adults are missing college." "This pandemic isn't going anywhere," Duckworth said. "My advice is: Lower expectations, stay connected with people, reach out for professional help when needed, don't skip your flu shot and remain physically active."
The killing of Walter Wallace Jr. on a Philadelphia street Monday afternoon became the latest police shooting to prompt outraged protests in a year that has been regularly punctuated by them. His family said he suffered from mental illness and angrily questioned why police had not used nonlethal methods to subdue him. “Unfortunately this is something that happens all the time. It’s been happening day after day, year after year,” said Angela Kimball, national director of public policy and advocacy for NAMI. “It is just now that communities are starting to say, ‘No, this is wrong.’” A better solution, she said, is for communities to establish teams of “mental health professionals who are trained at de-escalating. They’re not in uniform. They’re not shouting. They’re able to establish rapport and connect someone to treatment and support.”
Seasonal depression, known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD is a type of depression that occurs when it gets colder, there’s less light and it’s more difficult to get outside. Mental health experts worry that, because the pandemic has already triggered depressive symptoms in many Americans, more people will experience seasonal depressive symptoms this winter. Although only a small percentage of people typically report seasonal depression (most estimates put it at 6% of the U.S. population for severe symptoms and 14% for mild symptoms), Wright says she wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another increase in depressive symptoms among the population in general as the cold weather compounds social isolation. Get a light box or SAD lamp: These are lamps specifically created to mimic outdoor light. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI, says people with SAD should use one for a couple of hours in the morning during the winter.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741