As part of this year’s National Mental Health Awareness Month (all this May, 2021), Frank Saverino, LPC, LISAC, our Clinical Director here at SpringBoard Recovery, was recently interviewed by Destry Jetton on the popular local weekday TV program, “Arizona Midday,” produced here in Phoenix, Arizona by 12NEWS.
The subject of their conversation was increasing mental illness and mental health issues, along with substance use disorders (SUDs), now being seen across the U.S. as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, National Mental Health Awareness Month could not have come at a more important or more pivotal time as the U.S. now begins to suffer with the pandemic’s vast range of negative effects on our mental wellbeing, such as the stress, anxiety, and depression directly resulting from months and months of social isolation, fear, concern for loved ones, business closures, unemployment or the possibility of job loss.
Just like the novel coronavirus, no-one has been immune to this, either.
COVID-19: The Dramatic Effect on Our Nation’s Mental Health
The most comprehensive and trustworthy study so far of the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic upon the nation’s mental health comes from KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), one the U.S.’s leading nonprofit health policy analysis and journalism organizations.
In its recent Issue Brief: “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use,” published in February, 2021, it was found that the coronavirus’s socio-economic fall-out includes increasing mental health disorders, mental health issues, substance use and substance addiction (SUDs), and domestic violence right across the country. The KFF researchers’ analysis was based on research data collected from:
- The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (an ongoing survey created to specifically capture data on the health and economic impacts of the pandemic)
- KFF Health Tracking Poll data, and
- Accurate data on U.S. mental health prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the last 12 months, around 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported clear symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, compared to a much lower incidence of around 1 in 10 during January to June, 2019. Furthermore, a KFF Health Tracking Poll from July, 2020 found that many adults were reporting specific negative impacts, including:
- Difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%)
- Increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and
- Worsening chronic medical conditions (12%).
How the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected At-Risk Populations
Additionally, the issue brief also focused on specific at-risk populations, including young adults, the recently unemployed, parents and children, communities of color, and essential workers. Here is a summary of the brief’s further findings:
- Young Adults (Aged 18-24): Unique negative consequences for young adults have included university and school closures, and loss of income. During last year, a larger than average share of young adults (56%) reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder. Compared to adults, young adults were also more likely to report substance use (25% vs. 13%) and suicidal thoughts (26% vs. 11%).
- Recently Unemployed: Researchers were already aware from earlier studies that unemployment often resulted in increased depression, anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem, and led to higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide. During the pandemic, adults in households with job loss or lower incomes have reported higher rates of mental health issues than those without job or income loss (53% vs. 32%).
- Parents & Dependent Children: Mothers, particularly, were noticeable as being highly at-risk from the collected data, as they have experienced several additional challenges during the past year, such as school closures and the lack of childcare. Mothers were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than fathers (49% vs. 40%). Generally, prior to, and during, the pandemic, women reported higher rates of anxiety and depression than men.
- Communities of Color: Both non-Hispanic Black adults (48%) and Hispanic or Latino adults (46%) reported more anxiety and/or depressive disorder symptoms than Non-Hispanic White adults (41%).
- Essential Workers: Lastly, the nation’s essential workers faced a number of unique challenges, too, not least their greater risk of exposure to, and infection from the coronavirus. Compared to non-essential workers, essential workers reported more anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms (42% vs. 30%), starting or increasing their substance use (25% vs. 11%), and suicidal ideation – thoughts of suicide – (22% vs. 8%) during the pandemic.
Frank Saverino, Clinical Director: Mental Self-Care
As we mentioned earlier, and as part of this year’s National Mental Health Awareness Month, Frank Saverino, SpringBoard Recovery’s Clinical Director, was recently interviewed by Destry Jetton on the popular local weekday TV program, “Arizona Midday,” a 12News production.
Frank Saverino at Springboard Recovery Talks about Mental Health Awareness
If you wish to watch Frank’s appearance on Arizona Midday as he speaks about National Mental Health Awareness Month, a few of the mental health resources available in the U.S. and specifically in Arizona, and how families can help a loved one struggling with their mental health, you can do so here.
Frank Saverino, LPC, LISAC, Clinical Director, SpringBoard Recovery
Source: Arizona Midday
The program, which provided helpful tips and resources for those viewers struggling with their mental health, began with a question on the connection between mental health and wellbeing and substance addiction and substance use disorders (SUDs). In reply, Frank referred to a National Institutes of Health’s statistic, which states:
- 7.7 million U.S. residents suffer from both a mental health disorder or illness and substance addiction / SUDs
- 38% of people with SUD now have a mental health disorder because of their substance abuse, and
- 18% of people with a mental health disorder also have a SUD, usually caused by repeated attempts to self-medicate or cope with the severe symptoms of their mental illness
This is a summary of what Frank had to say on the range of topics raised by Arizona Midday’s Destry Jetton, which includes helpful advice and tips for those struggling with their mental health both in the U.S. as a whole, and specifically here in Arizona:
- On Stigma: For us at SpringBoard Recovery, there is no stigma. They are health issues with no shame attached. Usually, for people in this situation, it’s the first phone call, the first contact about your mental health concerns that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome. Once that is done, people realize there is lots of help out there, and they are not alone.
- On Increased Cases of Mental Health Disorders & SUDs: There has been a huge increase in the stress and strain placed on people, coupled with a decrease in how people previously managed their stress, eg. church activities, social events, counseling, and so on.
- On Seeking Help: Here in Arizona, there are many resources, such as:
- 2-1-1 Arizona: The 2-1-1 Arizona Information and Referral Service operates 24/7, every day of the year, and a live-operator service is available at all times in both English and Spanish
- National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMH): NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of U.S. residents affected by mental illness
Like Mental Health America, the organizers of National Mental Health Awareness Month, the NAMH also has free downloadable resources and graphics to enable people to spread awareness themselves, and learn about their own situation:
NAMH: “You Are Not Alone” – Free Downloadable Resources & Graphics
- Primary Care Providers (family physicians)
- Health Insurance Providers
- Drug & Alcohol Treatment Centers, like SpringBoard Recovery
- Community Support:
- Church Organizations
- 12-Step & Other Mutual Aid Groups
It’s a matter of just picking up the phone, and getting yourself past that fear and shame of asking for help. Once people do reach out, they find there is a lot of help and resources out there for them.
- On Help for Family Members: Family members can obviously access the same resources themselves. Our advice is to take care of themselves while they are learning how they can help their loved ones. It is also important to find out exactly how you can help, as, sometimes, even the most caring and well-intentioned do things that are not helpful.
- On SpringBoard Recovery: We treat co-occurring disorders (the simultaneous presence of a SUD and a mental health disorder). Obviously, we have individual and group therapy for both our clients and their families: “We treat mind, body and spirit here.” We actively encourage our clients to connect to community support organizations during their treatment with us, so when they leave, they can transition far better into normal life. Lastly, if we are unable to help, our Admissions team will gladly point people in the right direction; we will still help them to find the help they need.
National Mental Health Awareness Amid Increased Diagnoses
National Mental Health Awareness Month has been the yearly publicity drive of Mental Health America (MHA), the U.S.’s leading community-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those living with mental illness, since 1949. Every May, the MHA spreads awareness about mental health nationwide, as part of its proactive work to stem mental illness through advocacy, education, research, and services.
Mental Health America has online screening tools for a range of mental health disorders and behavioral conditions, such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and substance use, and early psychosis, as well as screenings that are both youth-focused and parent-focused.
Source: Mental Health America
This year, the theme is an extension of last year’s “#Tools2Thrive” initiative, which provided free downloadable resources to anyone wishing to learn more about their own situation.
Mental Health Crisis: The New U.S. Epidemic
As we stated earlier, this year’s National Mental Health Awareness Month comes at an important and pivotal time as the U.S. slowly emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks to address what is essentially a new national epidemic – the mental health crisis. When you consider that in any given year here in the U.S., nearly 1 in every 5 people will have a diagnosable mental health condition, you cannot refer to this epidemic-sized crisis as anything but.
Only this week, at a U.S. Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care hearing (Wednesday, May 12, to be exact), the mental health crisis was at the very top of their agenda. The hearing, entitled “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond: Improving Mental Health and Addiction Services in Our Communities,” aimed to address the growing behavioral health crises, by primarily focusing on enhancing reimbursement for certain community health clinics, to increasing mobile crisis units and peer support staff. Interestingly, the hearing used exactly the same resource – the Issue Brief, produced by KFF (and described above) – as we have done.
The subcommittee proposed the following measures:
- Expansion of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) Program: Currently, a pilot project now fully operational in 10 states. A recent Impact Report highlighted that more than half of clinics provide same-day service, and nearly all provide treatment within a week.
- 24/7 Mobile Crisis Units & Crisis Stabilization Centers
- Growing Pipeline of Future Behavioral Health Professionals: One way to make careers in behavioral health more enticing to students is to build residencies in internships in the communities where individuals “wish to live and serve.”
“We need to finally treat healthcare above the neck the same way we treat healthcare below the neck. The good news is we’re making progress.” – Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. & Subcommittee Chair
However, history tells us that the mental health impact of disasters always outlasts its physical impact, meaning the mental health issues being seen now will persist well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic itself.
Research studies appear to support this. One analysis of the psychological toll on health care providers during similar outbreaks found that their distress can actually last up to 3 years afterwards. Additionally a more recent analysis (May 2020) predicts that additional deaths due to suicide and alcohol or drug misuse may occur by 2029. Therefore, whatever is decided now, the increased need for mental health and substance use services will definitely be a long-term requirement, even when deaths from COVID-19 finally subside.
- “Arizona Midday,” TV program, made in Phoenix, Arizona by 12NEWS. May, 2021.
- Mental Health America (MHA) website. Updated 2021)
- Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF): Issue Brief: “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.” February, 2021.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. May, 2021.
- Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF): KFF Health Tracking Poll, July, 2020. July, 2020.
- 2-1-1 Arizona website. 2021.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website. Updated 2021.
- U.S. Senate Finance Subcommittee on Health Care hearing. “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond: Improving Mental Health and Addiction Services in Our Communities.” May, 2021.
- Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) Program website. 2021.
- Nevada Department of Health & Human Resources. Nevada Crisis Systems white paper: “Towards A Comprehensive Crisis Response System in Nevada.” 2021.
- Well Being Trust. “Projected Deaths of Despair During COVID-19.” May, 2020.