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New York Attorney General Letitia James will empanel a grand jury as part of the investigation into Daniel Prude's death. James' announcement comes as the city has been rocked by protests for four nights, with protesters demanding more accountability from law enforcement and legislation to change how authorities respond to mental health emergencies. Advocates for such legislation say Prude's death and the actions of seven now-suspended Rochester police officers demonstrate how police are ill-equipped to deal with people suffering mental problems. Having police respond can be a "recipe for disaster," The National Alliance on Mental Illness said in a statement Friday. Prude's death "is yet another harrowing tragedy, but a story not unfamiliar to us," the advocacy group said. "People in crisis deserve help, not handcuffs."
With school re-openings in full swing (or not), there’s a lot of uncertainty for high school and college students about what this next year will look like. Some students have returned to their campuses, only to be told their classes will be held online. Jennifer Rothman, senior manager of youth and young adult initiatives at NAMI, notes that the NAMI helpline has seen a significant increase in calls over the last few months. “We’re hearing more calls about anxiety, a lot of stress and depression,” she says. “What families really want to look for is changes in behaviors, changes in personality,” Rothman says. “If your child isn’t talking to you as much anymore, or spending a lot time by themselves,” that’s a red flag, especially if they’re not taking time to connect with their friends virtually. You may also see a decrease in motivation, Rothman notes, especially without the routine of in-person schooling. If your student is having a hard time getting out of bed, if they’re sleeping too little, or if their appetite has changed, this may denote mental stress.
Early this year, Kenneth Cole started the Mental Health Coalition and joined forces with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to help shift the narrative and preconceived perspectives. Together, the organizations want people to know that they’re not alone in their struggle with mental illness. They are encouraging everyone to vocalize their battles and seek assistance. Daniel Gillison, CEO of NAMI, told BlackPressUSA that lifting the stigma surrounding mental illness, particularly in the African American community, is as relevant now than ever. “Especially during this time of isolation, uncertainty, and tragedy, it is vital that no one feels alone in their mental health journey,” Gillison said. “The COVID-19 crisis shines a spotlight on our need for social connectedness and our need for real mental health resources. we need to raise awareness to change our fragmented mental health system into one that serves everyone, so people can get the care they need.” Gillison said COVID-19, social unrest, job loss and business closures are all forces that have come together to create more trauma in the African American community.
As campuses reopen, students stuck at home or in dorm rooms should take close care of themselves. As about 20 million college students prepare to either return to school or take courses remotely, they’re not only facing the risk of infection with coronavirus, but also a mental health crisis. Whether it’s counseling, therapy, or psychiatric help, most colleges offer a wide slate of telehealth options for free. Any student can, and should, jump on these opportunities. Jennifer Rothman, senior manager of youth and young adult initiatives at NAMI, also urges faculty and staff to learn about their college’s mental health resources so that they can clue students in when needed. Staying in the loop with your college community is more essential than ever, especially for students living in home environments that aren’t safe or positive. “Purposefully plan Zoom dates, online trivia nights, and Netflix Party movie nights, and have fun with your friends virtually,” Rothman says.
A failure to reinstate enhanced federal unemployment benefits and eviction moratoriums could contribute to a wave of despair, drug overdoses and suicides among Americans, amid mounting fears about the long-term toll of the pandemic. Protective factors include access to mental health services, family and community support, and strong religious or spiritual beliefs that discourage suicide. In addition, emerging evidence suggests that some Covid-19 survivors may experience mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD as part of a myriad of long-term consequences. At least 35 states have reported a rise in fatal opioid overdoses during the pandemic, with powerful synthetic drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine increasingly implicated. “This [opioid] epidemic caused 70,000 deaths last year, and it’s far from over,” said Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI.
Many people may be experiencing increased anxiety during the pandemic, which experts say can be compounded by the sense of isolation that can come with social distancing. That's why it's important for people who are vulnerable to increased anxiety to have access mental health care. "It's also really important to remember that one in five Americans had a diagnosed mental health condition before the pandemic," said Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI. Those people still need access to mental health care, he said. Duckworth also stressed the importance of telehealth services and phone sessions for people without internet access. "Pain shared is pain halved," Duckworth said.
Prevalence of depression among college students increased since the pandemic closed campuses this spring compared with fall 2019, according to a Healthy Minds Network survey of 18,000 college students. And of the nearly 42% of students who sought mental health care during the pandemic, 60% said it was either much more or somewhat more difficult to access care. Teens need mental health support in quarantine, just as others do, said Jennifer Rothman, NAMI senior manager of youth and young adult initiatives. Call volume at NAMI's HelpLine is up 65% compared with last year, she said, averaging more than 200 calls a day. Most calls ask for support with anxiety. Teenage requests are similar, Rothman said, "and especially with COVID-19, and the social isolation, the change in structure and day-to-day activities and routines, we're seeing an increase in some of these symptoms" of anxiety and depression.
Mental illness is so prevalent in the U.S. that we now have a reduced life expectancy as a result of 2 specific causes, and the pandemic is only making things worse. Dr. Ken Duckworth, the CMO for NAMI, joins Dr. Hallowell to talk about how his organization helps those with bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, schizophrenia, depression, thoughts of suicide, and other conditions.
In a crisis? Call or text 988.