Mental Health Month
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor,
more unashamed conversation” – Glenn Close
May is a time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma so many experience.
Nearly 450 million people worldwide are currently living with a mental illness, yet nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek treatment. Beaumont Hospital, like so many other premier health care institutions in Michigan, is dedicated to helping those living with anxiety, depression, and co-occurring disorders and their loved ones find treatment, support, and resources.
Our country faces an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages. Two out of five adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression.
As a normal course of aging, older adults experience changes to their physical health, mental health, and cognitions. Interactions among these age-related factors can result in a “spiral” or “cascade” of decline in physical, cognitive, and psychological health. The figures that we have from the U.S. suggest that “almost two-thirds of the young adults have some symptoms of anxiety or depression or other psychological problems."
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.
Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
• Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
• Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
• Family history of mental health problems
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about one in five adults had a mental illness. Without a doubt, the pandemic has affected the state of mental health in our country and made mental illness even more common. It is rare that a family is not touched by a mental health condition, one that can interfere with your or a loved one’s ability to work, sleep, eat and enjoy life.
To help slow the spread of COVID-19, many schools and childcare centers across the U. S., including the Early Childhood Center at The Community House, closed and transitioned to virtual instruction for at least some time. With these closures, children and their parents experienced ongoing disruption and changes to their daily routines. Local health care institutions informed us the research during the pandemic highlighted concerns around poor mental health and well-being for children and their parents. We are told that many parents with school-aged children are now more concerned about their children’s emotional well-being than prior to the pandemic. Both parents and their children have experienced worsening mental health since the start of the pandemic, and women with children are more likely than their male counterparts to report worsening mental health.
We learned that mental health disorders include anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, or more serious illnesses as bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more. To our dismay, most people with mental illness do not receive mental health services that they need.
Our friends and partners at Beaumont have informed us that people with mental illness can have symptoms that include a range of feelings, emotions, or experiences, including:
• Shifts in mood sadness
• Low energy
• Sleep problems
Mental illness is not always easy to detect. Someone does not need to have all these symptoms, perhaps just one or two.
Upon further research we learned how the pandemic was/is a "perfect storm" to give rise to uncertainty, stemming from anxiety and loss, possibly leading to depression. Many young adults have lost quite a bit, especially when it comes to educational and professional opportunities.
"For the people between the ages of 21 and 25, this is a time of expansion in their life, with new connections and new things. That is all being halted. I think this is a hard time for parts of life to stand still when there is normally just this fast-paced developmental time where so much is happening socially and professionally."
Mental Health America found that between April and September of last year, 70 percent of people reported that loneliness or isolation was the top contributing factor to mental health issues. Isolation is the actual separation from others, and loneliness is the accompanying feeling.
"One can be lonely in spite of being with others. Both loneliness and self-isolation give rise to major health impacts, and the communication around the need for distancing in the pandemic has been very unfortunate," according to Mental Health America.
We learned that “social distancing really should have been called physical distancing, separate from social connectedness. People are forced to do that because there are rules put in place, however, the attempt should be to be as connected as possible."
Given this national mental health crisis severely impacting our neighborhoods, schools, work and social settings, The Community House believes it is also our responsibility to help our families, children and adults navigating through this crippling crisis in any way we can. Our work to partner with local health and wellness organizations – to offer those in need – access to professional mental and behavioral health care workers, support groups, resources and education in a safe and non-threatening setting (regardless of a person’s ability to pay) is now underway.
Rising from COVID and now battling the economy, we have taken the time to reflect on where our limited nonprofit resources should be allocated/reallocated to make the biggest impact on the community today. Consistent with our nearly century old nonprofit, charitable mission – we have determined health and wellness education, social connectedness, exercise and movement, and healthy eating and food preparation, for children and adults – must now take center stage. We are in a crisis. It will take a village. If not now, when? if not us, who?
William D. Seklar is President & CEO of The Community House and The Community House Foundation in Birmingham.