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Opinion piece by Daniel Gillison, NAMI CEO and Andy Keller, president and CEO of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute focused on access to care and how people suffering from inadequately treated mental health issues disproportionately drive excess medical costs. The crisis is now of such magnitude that a failure by legislators and policy makers to shore-up an overwhelmed mental health care system could cripple recovery. Post-COVID forecasts warn that the cost of treating widespread anxiety and depression will create a $1.6 trillion drag on the U.S. economy. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that untreated mental illness already costs us up to $300 billion annually due to lost productivity and associated costs due to absenteeism, employee turnover and increases in medical and disability expenses.
With reports of learning losses, depression and anxiety, and lack of socialization, parents are worried their kids may suffer the consequences of the pandemic for years to come. Jennifer Rothman, senior manager of youth and young adult information/initiatives at NAMI, says we don't know what the impacts of the pandemic on kids' mental health in the long run will be just yet. Data from the CDC show that while overall rates of ER visits have decreased during COVID, the proportion of visits related to mental health emergencies has grown—up 24% for kids ages 5 to 11 and 31% for kids ages 12 to 17. If parents believe their child is struggling with a mental illness, a good first step is to contact their pediatrician for an evaluation, says Rothman. "From there, your pediatrician will be able to refer you to specialists to decide on what treatment options will work best for your child," she says. "The earlier your child starts treatment, the better the outcomes." While parents are naturally concerned about their kids, Rothman's biggest worry is the stress and heaviness that's weighing on all members of a family, including parents. Her No. 1 tip for parents is to make sure they're taking care of themselves and seeking help when they need it. "Self-care is extremely important when you're caring for others," she says.
Scientists may have uncovered the reason critical medications for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder cause weight gain and diabetes, findings they hope will lead to better drugs. In fact, these side effects commonly drive patients to stop taking the drugs, said Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO, NAMI. Duckworth, who was not involved in the new research, said it's important to understand why those adverse effects occur. These findings, he said, "begin to unravel" the issue. The takeaway, both Duckworth and Freyberg said, is that patients' difficulties with current antipsychotics are being heard. "Scientists are working on this," Duckworth said. For now, the challenge for patients is to manage the side effects the best they can. The first step is being aware that they can happen, Duckworth noted, since people being newly prescribed an antipsychotic are not necessarily able to process all the information they're receiving. For their part, Duckworth said, doctors should be monitoring patients' weight, blood sugar and cholesterol, to catch unhealthy changes. Links to NAMI psychiatric medications webpage for more info.
With anxiety and depression on the rise during the pandemic, it has been challenging for people to get the help they need. Since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States more than a year ago, the number of people in need of mental health services has surged. But many say that they are languishing on waiting lists, making call after call only to be turned away, with affordable options tough to find. Providers, who have long been in short supply, are stretched thin. If you’re looking for support groups, check out the resources at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the National Eating Disorders Association, Alcoholics Anonymous or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
“Just to get onto a level playing field [with people of other races], you’ve got to be two to three steps better than, so you can’t be vulnerable,” said Dan Gillison, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “You can’t show any, what would be considered in the [Black] community, weakness.” Gillison says Black men and women have a difficult time showing vulnerability, and even getting to the point of admitting an issue, because of slavery and inequities that still harm communities of color. Research also shows that there are also socioeconomic factors that affect access to health care and exposure to contributing mental health factors, such as homelessness and crime. Gillison says, however, that the pandemic has started to open up conversations about mental health that have not previously circulated in communities of color. “You’re starting to see more people say, 'I live with, I exist with, I accomplished with this,' and it’s starting to resonate in communities of color,” Gillison said.
After his own experiences grappling with depression and anxiety, Lorenzo Lewis wanted to help Black men and boys with their mental health. Lewis felt it was especially important to address mental health among Black men because the need is great. Only 4% of therapists are Black, according to the American Psychological Association, and fewer than that are Black men. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Black people don’t always receive mental health care when it's needed — about 1 in 3 Black people receive care for their mental health. So, Lewis approached local barbers in Little Rock, Arkansas to discuss his vision for The Confess Project: an organization focused on training barbers to become mental health advocates in their communities. Lewis felt it was essential to enlist barbers in his efforts because he understood their importance to the community and believed many men would relate more to their barber than an outsider, such as an expert from a university.
School districts and mental health professionals remain concerned about the pandemic's effect on children's mental health. The big picture: Hospitals have seen a significant increase in mental health emergencies among children, and federal officials have acknowledged that prolonged school closures have deprived students of both formal services and simple human interaction. What they're saying: "The isolation we need to do to save lives is hitting them right at their developmental core," said Ken Duckworth, CMO at NAMI. The pandemic has been harder on teens and young adults than on younger children, said Shekhar Saxena, professor of the practice of global mental health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Several experts provided an overview of the psychological stressors linked to the COVID-19 pandemic in a virtual presentation presented by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Some of the data points reflect the fact that the mental health crises that we faced before the pandemic have gotten worse,” Ken Duckworth, MD, CMO of NAMI, said during the presentation. “Virtually every country is reporting changes or disruptions in their service provision. It’s quite clear through a very comprehensive CDC study that over two in five [Americans are experiencing] anxiety, depression and trauma, and we're seeing more kids visiting emergency rooms and receiving services.” According to Duckworth, youths in the U.S. were exhibiting an uptick in anxiety and depression prior to the pandemic, and these mental health issues may be exacerbated by the effects of pandemic mitigation strategies. “The desire to go out and learn your identity, find work, figure out what kind of people you can fall in love with and will fall in love with you, it's all outside of the house,” Duckworth said. “The isolation that we need to do to save lives is hitting them right at their developmental core. Although we had a challenge before, it has gotten worse, but the one silver lining is that this generation [of young people] can talk about it, and that can reduce shame and isolation.”
Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI in a live on-air interview with Stephanie Ruhle discusses the impact the pandemic and social isolation is having on our mental health and specifically look at the impact its having on children and young people. He highlights the NAMI Basics On Demand program for parents and the NAMI HelpLine information is included at the end of the clip.
Asking for help is critically important when you’re having a hard time with recovery, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Plus, the pandemic has just about everyone struggling in some way, making the task of asking for help even more daunting. If you’re hesitant to reach out because you’re wondering how you can ask someone for support when they’re likely struggling as well, you’re not alone. Asking for help is harder right now, but there are ways to make it easier. “Social isolation can make people feel more alone with all of their worries, fears, and sadness,” says Christine Crawford, MD, associate medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “However, it is important for people to find creative ways to remain connected to others in order to protect their mental health.” “Establishing daytime structure and routine is incredibly important during these uncertain times when it feels like so very little is in our control,” says Crawford. “Identifying areas of your life in which you do have control can reduce the anxiety that comes along with uncertainty. Set up a daily schedule which incorporates time for self-care, socializing, and work-related duties.”
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741