May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an opportunity to reflect on the state of mental health, create awareness, break stigma and facilitate dialogues around mental health. At HearMe, we have been committed to supporting these efforts and advocating for the ability for everyone to have access to the support and resources they need. Here are four things you should know this Mental Health Awareness Month:
- The Impact of Covid-19 on Mental Health
This year’s Mental Health Awareness Month comes at a time when the world has lost more than three million people due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with this devastating human loss, people everywhere have lost jobs and livelihoods as businesses were forced to close down and lay off employees. Changes to our way of life have not been easy either. Many people struggled to get used to working remotely — dealing with tech challenges, long hours of work, and zoom fatigue — as others juggled to balance work, family, and other responsibilities. Mothers who work from home and take care of children, in particular, have suffered from stress and work burnout. Measures taken to combat the spread of the virus, such as social distancing and shelter in place, have led to loneliness and isolation for many, especially senior adults.
Life in the pandemic has surely been a period of uncertainty for most of us — one that’s filled with stress, exhaustion, and burnout. In addition, people have had to deal with unexpected life changes, grief, and loneliness. All these have contributed to the increase in mental health conditions among adults and young people in the U.S. According to the CDC, between August 2020-February 2021, the percentage of adults with symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder increased from 36.4% to 41.5%. Meanwhile, mental health related emergency department visits among children and teens in 2020 increased 24% and 31%, respectively, compared to 2019.
2. Mental Health Affects All
We have been facing a worsening mental health crisis for many years, even before the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the world. According to the CDC, more than 50% of Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime, while 1 in 25 Americans live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges, especially if they are unable to find support. Mental health conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often go undiagnosed and untreated, meaning that many children will lead unhealthy and unsafe lives. In addition, young people are often challenged by stress, anxiety, or depression. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in the United States for people ages 10–34 as teens and young adults often experience feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss.
People of color, the LGBTQ community, or people with disabilities — groups that are often subjected to discrimination, isolation and exclusion — have a higher risk of being affected by mental health illness. The elderly, who often suffer from loneliness and isolation, also struggle to keep their mental health intact, while caregivers, including healthcare professionals, are also at elevated risk of developing mental health disorders.
When tackling this crisis, it is imperative that we take a comprehensive and tailored approach to ensure that each individual’s unique experiences are factored in. It’s worth noting that mental health affects everyone, and people with a mental health illness should not feel or suffer alone.
3. Stigma is a Barrier to Treatment
Globally more than 70% of people with mental illness receive no treatment from healthcare staff. In the U.S., less than half (44.8%) of adults with mental illness received treatment in 2019, while only 50.6% of youth aged 6–17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016.
There are a number of reasons why people do not receive treatment for mental health. While lack of knowledge, absence of mental health services, and affordability are major obstacles, stigma and discrimination are often at the forefront of why people don’t seek or accept mental health treatment.
Despite the prevalence of mental health illness, many people still look negatively upon the disorder, resulting from public stigma — others’ negative attitude toward mental health, self-stigma — one’s own attitude (shame) toward mental health conditions, and institutional stigma — referring to systemic barriers, such as the policies of governments or organizations that fail to address the mental wellbeing of people. All these have crippling effects on maintaining a healthy mental state.
Efforts to tackle stigma should be at the center of all interventions to address mental health. Governments and stakeholders can undertake public awareness campaigns aimed at educating people and normalizing mental health treatment. Policies at both the government or organizational level can and should ensure early interventions, treatment, and compassionate approaches to mental health. And we can all share our stories and connect with each other to let people know they are not alone.
4. Technology Can Help Tackle the Mental Health Crisis
Finding alternative ways to address mental health challenges will be important to end this crisis. One option that has become increasingly popular is the use of technology. Digital mental health care can focus on prevention — offering tools for “resilience training, meditation exercise, social-emotional skills building and more;” protection and detection — giving access to alerts for health concerns such as abuse, harassment, cyberbullying, or self harm; and treatment — such as digital therapy.
HearMe also enlists technology as a force for good by offering a listening platform to engage people in conversations with trained listeners. Through the app, people are encouraged to chat anonymously about a topic of their interest, concerns, or just about their day. This has been very helpful to many, especially during the pandemic, making it one of the best stress busting apps.
While technology shouldn’t be a replacement for human care and requires a careful approach to mental health treatment, with the right use, it can offer a space for people to stay connected, be informed, and increase access to alternative means of maintaining self-care and well-being.