Guest Commentary: Every month should be mental health month
Since 1949, the month of May has been observed as Mental Health Month in the United States. I am grateful for a month, any month, day, week or even hour that provides more opportunities to discuss mental health and its many capillaries. When considering the attention our community’s mental health requires, however, May’s 31 days have often felt too short and quick; a juxtaposition reflecting the enormity and significance of a community’s mental health needs.
Perhaps these sentiments have had more to do with my anxiety and my sense of urgency having experienced my own mental health needs, both personally, and as a social worker in the field. I am keenly aware of mental health’s unfortunate reality. Mental illness is demanding; it begs and then typically demands ongoing and consistent attention and maintenance. The cost of ignoring these demands grows exponentially over time.
By now, we have seen many headlines reporting on the rising mental health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects. Whether on the radio, television, computer, phone or in printed press, we have been immersed and forced to speak of our community’s and world’s mental health needs.
Many have reported anxiety in response to the uncertainty of the situation. Some have expressed sadness associated to losing daily routines, sources of meaning and joy, and anger at the unpredictable circumstances that robbed ones sense of control and permanence. Isolation and loneliness are well-known risk factors for mental illness. Unfortunately, social disconnection and physical distancing have exacerbated the sense of isolation.
Even before coronavirus, America was experiencing a mental health crisis. Rates of suicide have continued to rise in recent years, up 35 percent since 1999. According to the CDC, 47,000 deaths in the U.S. were attributed to suicide, or about one death every 11 minutes, in 2017. Even more Americans consider suicide. Also in 2017, the CDC reported that 10.6 million people “seriously thought” about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan and 1.4 million attempted it.
In a recent poll, nearly half (45 percent) of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus.
As I write this piece, I can’t help but think of the unfortunate and isolated months behind us and the uncertain months ahead of us. I realize the complex and sneaky, sometimes demanding, and often insidious nature of mental health illness.
Ironically, as many feel increased disconnection and isolation, humans across the globe have never before had so much in common in terms of struggles, fears and anxieties. The virus and its effects have certainly and unfortunately been “equalizers.” Although there is no manual for maintaining mental health during a global pandemic, there are clinicians who are trained to deliver evidence-based treatments and to provide support. Whether in person or virtual, access to evidence-based services and their successful implementation play an integral role in our efforts to support the challenges communities all over the world might face in the aftermath of the Coronavirus.
– Elizabeth Dosoretz, LCSW, is CEO of Elite DNA