We’re eight months into a global pandemic and many things have drastically changed in all of our lives. From politics, to physical health, to job security, there has been an endless list of worries that have clouded our minds. However, there is one issue in particular that we have seemingly swept under the rug.
It is no secret that this year has not been a spectacular year by any stretch of the imagination. From increased cases of depression, anxiety, and rates of suicide, Americans have definitely seen better years for mental health. Even before the pandemic, mental health illnesses were on the rise among youth and adults in America and this reality has not changed.
According to Mental Health America, the number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has increased exponentially over the past year. Statistics show that the total number of anxiety cases has risen by 93% from last year, totaling around 315,000 cases. Similarly, the number of depression cases has increased by 63%, to a total of about 535,000 cases.
Forced quarantining and social distancing for over eight months has affected almost every person in a different way, especially those who had pre-existing mental health conditions. It can be hard to remember to reach out for help when you feel alone and may be physically alone. This was the case for many people across the country. Many people have struggled with loneliness in these times which has led to higher rates of anxiety and depression in addition to self-harm and thoughts of suicide. Mental Health America revealed that since March 2020, over 178,000 people have reported frequent thoughts of suicide.
Additionally, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people of color, meaning Black, African American, Asian, or Pacific Islander individuals have experienced some of the worst mental health struggles this year. According to Mental Health America, there are 3.9 million people in America who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community who also have a mental illness. This is 37% of LGBTQ+ individuals. The total number of Black, Indigenous and people of color that have a diagnosed mental illness totals to about 19 million people. This is 5.7% of the total population in the U.S. and 14% of all Black, Indigenous and people of color. These numbers may not seem large in comparison to the country as a whole, but these individuals still matter and deserve care. Sadly because of the rates of unemployment and poverty in these marginalized groups, access to mental health care is also extremely limited.
Care for mental illnesses can be hard to come by, especially if people don’t have insurance that covers medical bills or prescription prices associated with their illness. In fact, 5.1 million adults in the U.S. are uninsured, making it close to impossible to receive any sort of care or even a diagnosis. These numbers have not changed in 2020 as many people have also been laid off and have lost their benefits, which severely limits their health resources.
In addition to marginalized groups, students, specifically college students, are at risks for developing mental health illnesses. Stress within families, personal finances, virtual education struggles and lack of resources available at low costs weighs heavily on the shoulders of America’s college students. However, 2020 has been the year that a lot of universities have emphasized their free counseling services and have expanded their teams in order to accommodate a greater number of students.
Concordia University Ann Arbor, a small, liberal arts university in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is striving to make a large impact in the mental health field. The Counseling and Psychological Services department has been putting all of its energy into reaching students and staff that need mental health assistance. At a time that is filled with the unknown in addition to massive changes in the world, prioritizing mental health has become essential. Stephanie Bigelow is a therapist at Concordia University Ann Arbor who is working to de-stigmatize mental health culture. Bigelow said that a common misconception associated with mental health is that “therapy is only reserved for those with a serious condition.” For decades, therapy has been viewed as a sign of weakness for people who are unable to solve their problems alone. Despite these stereotypes, Bigelow says that “counseling proves to be useful for everyone through new awareness and growth.”
Being aware of the mental health challenges that our country is facing during a time that is both unpredictable and overwhelming is of the utmost importance. Not a day can go by where you as an individual should not check in with yourself in order to make sure that your health feels balanced and secure. It is no secret that we are in desperate need of assistance and although many people have reached out for more information about mental health, there can truly never be enough education or empathy in our country, especially when it comes to the world of mental health.
There is a lot of be worried about and that is understandable. You have a lot on your mind and the world often doesn’t give you a break. The mental health statistics are growing worse and worse every day. The pandemic has not helped these numbers in any way. In fact, the coronavirus has only skyrocketed these numbers and has also pushed you away from opportunities to reach out and receive help.
What is being done about this? How can you help? These are fair questions to ask about such a sensitive topic and there are answers. First of all, telehealth and the use of telemedicine has exploded in popularity among health care providers and counseling services. This is an excellent resource that can be used by anyone from almost anywhere that has reliable internet connection. Counselors have gotten the opportunity to meet with clients regularly using video-calling platforms. Doctors have seen patients and have been able to assess treatments and monitor symptoms without the patient ever having to leave their home. Care is being brought to communities in a brand new way that was rarely used before March 2020.
The loss of connection that you may feel does not indicate the loss of care that you are able to receive or that is available to you. Although mental health illness cases and suicide rates are rising in America on a daily basis, the number of available resources is catching up to these cases. However, mental health resources and institutions are not the only ones responsible for caring for those in our community. You are responsible for how you treat yourself and others.
You are the one in control of the compassion and empathy you show to the people who may be struggling during this awfully dark time. I invite you to become more educated on the benefits of mental health counseling and also simply learning more about mental illnesses, their differences, their keys symptoms and the best ways to help people who experience these symptoms every day. You are the one who can make a difference. No matter how insignificant you may think you are, remember that you and your mental health matter. Do not passively let the numbers of mental illness cases increase, whether this includes you or not. Be the difference that helps change the national statistics.