May is mental health awareness month, and in 2020 during the time of Corona and forced lockdowns - this is probably one of the most important conversations to have. Now I am not here to argue for or against the lockdowns - if the governors have overextended their legal authority or not - that is for another time and place - not here.
What I want to talk about is kinda an update from last year's month of mental health episodes. I've had a little more time to reflect over the past year not only about my own mental health but on how mental health is seen in the general public. And now that we have Covid-19 in the news - essentially all the time - how that has impacted those who are dealing with various mental health issues.
So how wide spread is mental health issues in America? According to an article from Healthypeople.gov, as of 2010 1 in 5 children in the United States had a mental health disorder - with the most common being ADHD. The same article even says 1 in 4 adults have a mental health disorder - with 1 in 17 being a serious mental health illness. The most common of the disorders reported is depression and anxiety - with no distinction between severity of anxiety and depression. This data is a few years old - and unfortunately we can't extrapolate what the data looks like now so for sake of argument let's assume it is close if not the same. Now that being said - I do want to address something - especially since it concerns a co-host for the Wednesday episodes. I know Josh has said in the past that he does not believe that ADHD is a real thing - and I want to be very clear that (as much as I respect and love him) ADHD is a real thing - and when people are dismissive of mental health issues that is a problem. That being said - I do believe and continue to support Josh's ability to have his opinions and will stand beside him if he ever has to protest for the right to speak even something as bad as that.
So that being said - lets continue.
What I have noticed over the past year (up until mid February) is that conversations regarding mental health have seen to have gone in the positive direction from where I have seen in the past. I know that is anecdotal, but I hope that this personally seen direction holds true in society at large. Up until the start of the Corona lockdowns, people were starting to open up and have more conversations regarding their mental health and the stigma seems to have slowly gone away - thankfully.
As far as for me personally, it has been tricky this past year. Since I last spoke on mental health in May some fun things have happened - I've celebrated another birthday/death anniversary of my dad, I celebrated another birthday, I've had some good days and bad days, I voluntarily went under more stress for work/other activities and learned how to scale what I get involved with appropriately to keep stress under control as well as learning how to better utilize the coping mechanisms I learned in outpatient and inpatient therapy. Now I won't lie - there have been days that have been rougher then others. Not every day has been perfect - and there were a few days this past year that I didn't want to get up or go to work - but thankfully those days were far and few between. So I consider that a win - especially considering where I was just a few years ago. Being in a better mental state (in general) has been great - and I am thankful I was in such good state right before February. Because at the end of January the world started changing.
Late January, early February Covid-19 started ravaging the world and all things went wonky. In fact it went so wonky that society as a whole essentially changed in the shape of just a few weeks. Things that I never thought would happen happened - and quite frankly continue to surprise me. But the thing that has been one of the scariest things is seeing the large increase in unemployment due to the lockdowns nationwide. We went from having a nationwide unemployment rate from around 3.5% to currently 4.4% with an estimate of 13-15% by the time people are able to fully return to work. Where this gets scary is that it is estimated that between 37,000 - 40,000 people die per percentage point increase in the jobless rate. Now, not one hundred percent of the 37-40k are from mental health issues - these deaths include issues such as lack of food, unable to access medical care, mental health, suicides, drug and alcohol use, and other conditions associated with reduction in money and increase in stress. Regardless of our personal stances of if the lockdowns should be lifted or not - we need to have an honest conversation about the impact of people loosing their job and not being able to work.
Something that we have to remember is that in order to be healthy, not only is food, sleep, friends, love important but people also need a purpose. We need a reason to get up, to get active, to do things more then just lay in bed and sleep. People without a purpose have no reason to do anything, and have no reason to get better and make themselves better. It is because of purpose that I continue to learn and get better in my profession. It is because of purpose that I continue to invest in others as well. Purpose is what gets us excited to try new things - and without it we grow stale and death comes quickly.
Beyond purpose we also need social interaction to be healthy - especially mentally. Adults (for the most part) have had the opportunity to learn coping skills and how to be social in these trying times using phone calls, text messages, zoom meetings, skype calls, etc to keep in touch. Children and teens have not had that opportunity to learn these skills and beyond the loss of jobs they have probably been hit the hardest during this time. These times of isolation are rough on the teens, as is evident by multiple headlines as the virus has ripped through the country. One of the first things that caught my attention as a blip on the radar was the news about two teens in Sacramento, California in early April who committed suicide and it was partially attributed to the stress dealing with the current pandemic. The next major blip that hit the news which raised the alarms for me was a video that started with the following quote:
Day 2 since I buried my son. My son died from the coronavirus as I mentioned, but not in the way you think.
The grieving father then goes on to explain how he believes the closing of schools and removal of the support system that teenagers need outside of their families was responsible for the death of his son. I have included a link to the video by the father below. What is interesting is that I shared this video with Aaron and Josh and one of the things that Aaron mentioned is that the man in the video looks like a country hick. And I won't lie - at first glance of the video I can see where one would get that. The guy's name is Brad Hunstable - the CEO of Linear Labs as well as the founder of Ustream (which was ultimately brought by IBM and is still in use). This is a classic example of don't judge a book by it's cover - we should not give credit to or dismiss someone based solely on how they look in a video.
It's a decently long video, and I will admit it brought many a tears to my eyes. What is more concerning is that experts are agreeing with this conclusion and warning flags have been raised. There is an article from ABC10 out of Sacramento, California that interviewed a Sacramento councilmember stating that "We can't allow young people to be collateral damage of Covid-19" referring back to the issues caused by the mental health issues of isolation.
We need to have a serious conversation about how this lockdown is impacting people's mental health - especially those already dealing with mental health issues as well as those younger and still finding their way in life.
So what do we do this mental health month? Well it is a very different month from last year. I would say there is less emphasis on personal learning and personally learning how to cope with everything, and I would say has shifted more to a combination. If you are someone dealing with mental health issues - isolation is hard. I am an introvert - but even then I realize that I need some sort of social interaction. Since I am in a decent place mentally right now, I know that I need to put into practice a few things. I need to force myself to be social - even if virtually through video chats. I force myself into a routine, making sure to get up at the same time, showering everyday, letting the dog out, and doing other things every single day. It gives me targets - even small ones - to get done daily and helps me feel good that I was able to accomplish at least something even if it was small. But at the same time since this is a combined effort - if you do not suffer from mental illness and you know of a friend or family member that does suffer for mental illness - check in on them once in a while. Don't be obnoxious with it but just see how they are doing - make sure they are eating, getting sleep at a decent time, keeping up with their hygiene, etc.
Until this time of lockdown and fear from covid is done - we have to realize we are in this together and we may need to check in on others a little more during this time to make sure that they are not part of the statistic - that they are not part of the additional 150k people that researchers are fearing will die due to suicide or drug overdose dur to covid.
If you are having trouble with the impact of the lockdown - there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Reach out. Reach out to friends, family, coworkers, someone you trust, heck - even reach out to us here. If you or someone you know is in critical condition and threat of them acting on their thoughts on killing themselves is imminent - get that person to the emergency room. If you are a person not knowing where to turn to get help reach out to the suicide prevention life line at
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ as well as the phone number 1-800-273-8255
Take care of yourself out there.