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More people are paying attention to mental health

Especially as more are reporting mental health issues like depression and loneliness

  • Scott LaMar
Mental health awareness month, vector illustration for poster, banner,print, web.

Mental health awareness month, vector illustration for poster, banner,print, web.

Airdate: May 9th, 2023


May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If ever there was a time to be aware of mental health it is now.

In fact, since the COVID-19 pandemic began three years ago, many Americans have been saying they’re anxious about their mental health, have gone through a mental health crisis, or have suffered bouts of depression.

There has been a lot of attention on the mental health of young people whose lives and routines were disrupted.

To discuss mental health of The Spark today was Dr. Ellen Beckjord, Associate Vice President for Population Health and Clinical Transformation at UPMC Health Plan, as well as a behavioral scientist, an epidemiologist and a licensed clinical psychologist, who referenced a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General that concluded loneliness is now at epidemic proportions,”I am thrilled that our surgeon general has been advocating for mental health and ideas around the periphery of that, like loneliness. He’s specifically talked a lot about mental health among youth, and I think the timing of that is really important. Part of it, I think, is coming on the heels of the pandemic when we were very isolated by necessity for a long time in ways that we had never experienced, probably most of us in our lifetimes, but also in the context of the real distributed world that we live in now. And some of that has been happening for a long time. You know, the degree to which just even built environments are less conducive to neighbors interacting with one another now with more distributed workforces. So a lot of social connection that people once had working in the office with other people, that gets pretty distributed now and we have a lot of connection to others via social media. But there is a mounting set of data points and evidence to suggest that that connectivity doesn’t always really represent authentic connection. And I think that’s part of what the surgeon general is pointing to, that we have a lot of connectivity more than ever before, but do we really.”

There have been many more reports of depression, especially among young people, but Dr. Beckjord was asked the difference between being depressed and a diagnosed mental illness of depression,”For a person to be diagnosed with a mental illness, they have to meet certain criteria and typically have to meet that criteria for an extended period of time. So if we take depression as an example, to receive a diagnosis of depression, someone needs to assess that you are exhibiting at least five of a collection of nine symptoms and that you’ve been dealing with those symptoms for at least two weeks or longer. So that’s different than I’m feeling depressed. You know, that might be more circumstantial. I’m not to say that it isn’t important to address it and to get help if you’re feeling depressed, but feeling depressed, feeling down, you know, feeling blue is different than having a diagnosis of depression. And that sort of scenario holds for anxiety for other things as well. There is probably a lot of mental illness that goes undiagnosed. But I think as I said earlier, you know, I haven’t found a way to escape periodic disruption in mood or energy and stress and distress. That’s kind of part of the human condition. There are things that we can do to make ourselves more resilient in the face of stressors that we both can and can’t anticipate. But, you know, having a diagnosis of a mental illness is more serious, typically means that it’s something’s been going on for longer and to a greater extent. And there are lots of evidence based interventions that can help people recover from mental illness and also where people can recover from more episodic disruptions in their in their mood and mental well-being.

Dr. Beckjord said only about half of the people suffering from mental illness seek treatment. However, those that do often run into not being able to get access or at least fast access to a health care professional,”It’s a multi-dimensional problem. Some of it is just a supply and demand problem. There aren’t enough licensed mental health providers for the amount of demand that there is. Some of it is a problem related to stigma and a reluctance to seek treatment. But…even people who are seeking treatment, who have the courage and the wherewithal to seek treatment, encounter barriers to being able to reliably receive it. I will say that I think this has been another one of those silver linings that we now have a fairly robust collection of services, and that’s important for a couple of reasons. One is that, as I mentioned, I really think of mental health on a continuum. So what kind of help a person needs when it’s going to vary over time? Sometimes they need pretty intensive help if they really are dealing with a crisis. But it’s important to access, you know, maybe lighter levels of support to prevent a crisis. And also people are different. There are individual preferences. Some people really want to get treatment in one way and other people might want to get it and another. So everything from the National Suicide Hotline, the 988 hotline, which is now available to everyone, 24/7, most counties have a crisis hotline that can be accessed by people 24/7. Those are, of course, real sort of, really kind of stopgap measures that we we don’t want people to only exclusively rely on. But it’s important that they’re there within the realm of evidence based psychotherapy, which can be delivered by psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed counselors. We’ve seen, I think, an increase in being able to access those through the availability of those services on telehealth platforms and delivery via synchronous video.”

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