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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.”
More than 10 months into the pandemic, mental health is a simmering crisis for many of the nation’s schoolchildren, partly hidden by isolation but increasingly evident in the distress of parents, the worries of counselors and an early body of research. Mental health problems account for a growing proportion of children’s visits to hospital ERs, according to the CDC. From March to October, the figure was up 31% for 12 to 17 years old and 24% for children ages 5 to 11 compared with the same period in 2019. Others suggest the fallout of the pandemic could reverberate far beyond the time of masks and quarantines. “Students are struggling across the board,” said Jennifer Rothman, senior manager for youth and young adult initiatives at NAMI. “It’s the social isolation, the loneliness, the changes in their routines.” “Students who might never have had a symptom of a mental health condition before the pandemic now have symptoms,” Rothman said.
It’s far easier to engage in a meaningful, compassionate conversation about mental health issues in 2021 than a few decades ago, when they were still considered hush-hush. Compared to previous generations, Millennials and Gen Z are more open about their struggles with mental health and possess a greater understanding that mental wellness and physical wellness are integrated. In the 70s and 80s, science helped us to see the underlying neurological issues in a brain scan for someone suffering from schizophrenia, for example. This was truly something that was happening chemically inside of you. As these findings were surfacing, so did the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in 1979, the largest mental health association in America. It was started as a support group for parents of kids who had mental illnesses. “A group of parents gathered around a kitchen table, fed up by the discrimination they faced while trying to help their children with mental illness,” says Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI. “They were turned away from care, even told that their parenting caused their child’s severe mental illness. They bonded together with people around the country to demand change, and while it was slow at times, they made progress.” Since forming, NAMI has evolved into the country’s largest grassroots advocacy organization for mental illness. They educate and raise awareness of mental illness, supporting both patients and their families with classes and support groups, advocacy and advocacy training, research, and offer guidance in navigating the costs of medication.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has, like other organizations, had to contend with a lot regarding COVID-19 and the delivery of its educational programming, according to its CEO. “People fail to realize that we have an epidemic within the pandemic,” Daniel H. Gillison Jr. told MHW. A “ripple of mental health issues” has been exacerbated. Racial trauma and economic issues have created fear and uncertainty, he said. One goal next year will be to increase the number of NAMI volunteers and expand its hours, possibly to 8 p.m., he said. NAMI's annual conference, NAMICon 2020, also went virtual. The organization successfully dealt with bandwidth challenges. “The upside is we had 12,000 participants with representation from the domestic U.S. and 31 countries,” he said. In the past, participants usually numbered from 1,400 to 1,600, Gillison said. Gillison indicated that COVID-19 saw more people being open and discussing mental health. “It helped to create a safe space for many,” he said. “You've seen all sectors — private, not-for-profit, entertainment, athletes, political — having a lot more conversation about the importance of mental health. The isolation has created that conversation.”
Angela Kimball, national director of advocacy and public policy at NAMI discusses that people are starting to rethink a police response to mental health crises. “We took the concept of defunding police to really be more about investing in community resources that really works to divert people from law enforcement involvement so talking about things like crisis hotlines and mobile crisis response,” said Kimball.
Young and old alike the holidays can often make mental health problems way a bit heavier. Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO at NAMI provides some tips to help cope. The holidays as a rule can often be a time where a lot of people deal with isolation, anxiety, depression and now throw in a pandemic and this is a different year is a not a hearing about more people coming for services like the ones provided at NAMI this year. “The holidays are often a difficult time for people. this is the classic cognitive problem of Madison avenue you presents you with happy multi-generational families who all are apparently from the same political party,” said Duckworth. “That's not everyone's experience and for mental health has never been greater and this is one of the challenges that we face is, you know are there enough providers to see everybody it's hard to find a therapist right now.”
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741