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The pandemic exacerbated mental health and substance use challenges for many people. Dawn Brown, NAMI director of HelpLine Services, said the amount of calls over the last year ebbed and flowed, but that at the height of the pandemic, calls shot up as much as 75 percent. Calls about anxiety and depression replaced schizophrenia and bipolar disorder as the hotline’s top illnesses. The expansion of telehealth made it easier for some people to keep up with mental health care. Still, patients with severe mental illness often rely on community support services that weren’t always available. Lawmakers could weigh in on these challenges later this year. Sen. Tim Kaine told reporters last week that expanding the mental health care workforce would be an important focus for the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “We were short on that before COVID. We’re really going to be short now,” the Virginia Democrat said.
The feelings Meghan described — shame, fear, hopelessness — are familiar to many who've experienced suicidal thoughts. But hearing her share so openly the mental anguish she experienced is meaningful to people who've contemplated suicide, said Dr. Ken Duckworth, NAMI CMO. Meghan's admission opens the floor to viewers who've had suicidal thoughts to discuss those feelings with people they trust or pursue treatment, Duckworth said. If one person watches that interview and says, 'I have struggled with this too; maybe I should reach out and get help,' (Meghan has) done another service," he said. In sharing that she's had suicidal thoughts, Meghan, a person who's so famous that she's recognizable from her first name alone, gave a voice to viewers who've thought about suicide, too. "I think it's a message that mental health is a 'we problem,' not an 'I problem,'" Duckworth said of her interview. Meghan's admission also challenges the stigma of having suicidal thoughts, he said, something that many Americans have experienced during the last year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hearing from a well-known figure who they can trust or relate to might put into perspective some of the issues people who've considered suicide face, he said. They may recognize symptoms she described within themselves, which could drive them to discuss those feelings with a mental health professional. "It's like physical pain — you have to attend to it," Duckworth said. "This is a reflection of tremendous emotional distress. (Suicidal thoughts) are the body's way of saying, 'Stop what you're doing.'"
Meghan's revelation that she struggled with mental health, spoken in front of a global TV audience of tens of millions, could have a tangible impact on other people facing their own mental health battles, according to Dr. Ken Duckworth, NAMI CMO. "When a remarkable, famous person says, 'I'm getting help,' it raises the definite possibility another person will say, 'If she can join this club ... maybe I can join this club, because I too have felt, whatever the experience is,' depressed, suicidal, overwhelmed," Duckworth said. "I think it's courageous whenever anybody who is in a position to potentially influence others shares a vulnerability." "This is a year that mental health has gone from a 'they' to a 'we' problem. So many people are struggling. So many people are overwhelmed," said Duckworth. "[Meghan] represents a lot of people. These are common mental health problems."
For a live on-camera interview, Dr. Duckworth, NAMI CMO discusses the impact of Meghan speaking openly about mental health and suicide ideation. He discusses overcoming barriers to mental health care such as shame regardless of your situation or privilege. Mental health issues are part of the human condition and by Meghan sharing her experiences it may encourage others to discuss their own feelings with people they trust or to seek treatment.
The candor Meghan Markle displayed while discussing suicidal ideation during her interview with Oprah Winfrey helped open the door for conversations about race and mental health, experts say. A combination of celebrity platform and the universal trauma of a pandemic have likely contributed to the impact of Meghan’s interview statements, said Dr. Christine Crawford, NAMI Associate Medical Director. “I think what has been the major tipping point was that more people now than ever before have actual firsthand experience as to what it's like to sit with significant depression and anxiety, and to have that in the context of people talking about mental health more, especially through social media,” Crawford said. “I’m incredibly encouraged by this.” Meghan’s comments about her struggle appeared to be mindful in that she understood her words could help further normalize conversations about mental health, particularly for women of color, Crawford said. It is important for women of color to see that even those who appear strong, successful and happy on the surface can be emotionally drained and feel that their mental health is unsupported, Crawford said. “To see these two individuals who are highly accomplished and successful, and especially one who is revealing what they've been going through ... to just see that on full display really just goes to show that even though you can carry the label as a strong Black woman you really have no idea as to what the truth is,” she said.
COVID-19 has tested us in many ways. Here’s how to determine if talking with a professional might help. There’s little doubt that a lot of people are struggling to cope right now. And it's not hard to see why. People are facing a lot of challenges: anxiety about getting sick, losing loved ones, grief over lost experiences, social unrest, unemployment, hunger and so much more, said Dr. Ken Duckworth, NAMI CMO. “What we have is a full-blown mental health pandemic as well.” Not to mention nearly everyone’s in-person social lives and human interactions and connection have been limited in some way during the pandemic, Duckworth added. Your therapist’s role is to focus on you and what you’re going through and dealing with and has training to help you better understand how to cope and can be honest with you without fear of hurting a friendship. You’re not signing your life away just because you make an appointment with a therapist. Some people are looking for a long-term relationship when it comes to therapy. For others, one to three sessions of therapy can really help, Duckworth explained. Every provider has a unique personality, too, that may or may not suit you, Duckworth said. It’s okay to tell your therapist he or she isn’t a good match. People in your life whom you trust can be really helpful in pointing you in the right direction or recommending providers they’ve worked with, Duckworth said. Or start with your primary care provider.
For many in the AAPI community, just leaving home requires a new routine and a mental shift that prioritizes survival. It's coupled with a subtle fear, wondering if they or a loved one will become the next victim. While Covid-19 may be raising the xenophobic flames right now, racism against Asian Americans is not new. Dr. Doris Chang and her team are currently studying the Asian American experience during the pandemic in combination with the protests over George Floyd's murder. Their goal is to ultimately promote alliances and solidarity with Black Lives Matter and immigrants' rights groups. But her initial findings reveal disturbing figures for her own community. In her survey of nearly 700 Asian Americans across the country, 16% reported being deliberately coughed or spat on. And 24% reported workplace discrimination while 14% said they had been barred from an establishment like a shop. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, members of the AAPI community are the least likely to seek help of any racial group. In 2019, the organization claims, only 23.3% of AAPI adults with mental illness were receiving treatment. To help raise awareness about mental health offerings for AAPI individuals, NAMI has listed a number of resources specifically designed for Asian Americans.
Amid the mental health crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, people with OCD are experiencing unique difficulties. The pandemic has led to 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression, an increase from the one in ten adults, according to Kaiser Family Foundation research. Dr. Ken Duckworth, NAMI CMO, told Insider: "We have certainly seen an increase of anxiety disorders at NAMI. There's also been a big leap in people with germ phobias being provoked by COVID-19." Hand-washing to prevent the coronavirus' spread is particularly tough for suffers from contamination OCD, a sub-type of the condition. After years of being told to stop washing their hands to control their condition, the new message to wash their hands to prevent COVID-19 can be mind-boggling.
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.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741