Recognizing a Cry for Help: The Anxiety and Stress of the COVID-19 Pandemic is Driving a Second Mental Health Epidemic
Caron Treatment Centers Calls for Families, Caregivers and Communities to Approach Summer with Strategies for Support
Wernersville, PA – May 24, 2022 – Caron Treatment Centers, a leading, internationally recognized nonprofit dedicated to addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment, research, prevention, and addiction medicine education, today called for better attention to the state of mental health in America, providing recommendations to help identify signs of mental health distress that are often overlooked or minimized in friends, colleagues and loved ones because they have become normalized by society.
“Mental Health Awareness Month is in May, which is also a time when people typically begin to transition into more of a relaxed, summer mode. Yet American’s mental health has never been in greater jeopardy,” said Brad Sorte, Caron’s President and CEO. “We have all dealt with the ongoing stress and anxiety of the pandemic, but not everyone has learned how to cope in a healthy way. The trauma wrought by the grief and social isolation of the pandemic, has brought thousands of people to the breaking point. We must not be passive because that is when preventable tragedies occur. Instead, we must do more to end the stigma surrounding mental health and substance use by continuing to help people recognize signs of emotional pain and ensuring families have access to affordable, quality care.”
The Impact of Mental Illness is Far-reaching, Yet Largely Ignored
In March of 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported worldwide anxiety and depression increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic. The impact of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues is far-reaching and potentially fatal. A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that, in the first year of the pandemic, alcohol-related deaths increased by 25.5%, with deaths among 35-to-44 year-olds rising by almost 40%. Alcohol and drug dependency is often co-occurring with mental health issues.
There has also been a significant increase among those aged 17 to 25 in emergency room visits related to suicide attempts, some of which were impulsive and some of which were planned out. The U.S. Surgeon General issued a public health advisory warning we are in the midst of a youth mental health crisis that may rival the COVID-19 pandemic in its scope and long-term impact.
“The pandemic has created seasons of uncertainty and supreme isolation, and, while we don’t know what the future will hold, what is certain is that the poor coping strategies employed throughout the pandemic have had deadly consequences,” said Christopher Grant, Psy.D., Clinical Supervisor of Teen and Young Adult Male Services at Caron Treatment Centers. “We are at a crossroads in the way we care for our—and our community’s—mental health and related substance use.”
Statistics also show mental illness largely goes unaddressed. Over half of the adults in the U.S. with mental illness do not receive treatment, meaning over 27 million adults are going untreated. The situation is even worse among teens and young adults, with over 60% of youths with major depression not receiving any mental health treatment.
“People don’t take their everyday mental health seriously enough. Good mental health is as important to our general well-being as diet and exercise,” said Dr. Maggie Tipton, Psy.D., Senior Director of Psychological Services at Caron. “There is a stigma around mental illness and a belief that people who have problems are weak in some way. We will all face challenges to our mental health and mental wellbeing over the course of our lives. It is important that we learn to recognize the signs and symptoms in ourselves, our colleagues, our friends, and our loved ones.”
Among the Signs to Watch For:
- Attention-seeking behaviors
This is any behavior resulting in a person being noticed or attended to; it usually suggests someone needs something and does not know how to ask for it. This could be indulging in risky behaviors, acting out behaviorally or emotionally, isolating, or a change in behaviors on social media (e.g., less/more active, disturbing images/ideas, etc.). The question is not “What is wrong with you?” Instead, it is “What has happened or is happening to you?”
- An increase in drug or alcohol usage
Mental illness is often an underlying factor driving an alcohol or substance use disorder. Co-occurring disorders—such as anxiety or depression— may lead people to use drugs or alcohol in an effort to “self-medicate” and reduce discomfort.
- Burnout, numbness, sleepiness or lack of energy
In general, the pandemic has left many people weary. Fatigue and potential burn out are a natural response to the cumulative stress and collective trauma that Americans have experienced over the last couple of years. Increased need for sleep, low energy, apathy, and boredom can also be signs of depression.
- Missing appointments
Not showing up for personal or professional appointments can be a sign that all is not right.
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
Depression often shows up as a chronic lack of joy and excitement, feeling bored with activities that once brought joy. The pandemic response limited engagement in activities for individuals; a pivot toward new interests may have ensued for some, but left a void for others.
Any change in behavior can be a cry for help. As with the expression “Where there is smoke, there is fire,” these small behaviors can be telltale signs of a bigger mental health problem.
How to Help a Friend, Partner, or Loved One:
- If there is true concern about wellbeing and safety, take action.
Call 911. It’s better someone overreact and it be nothing, than underreact and miss a chance to prevent a crisis.
- Ask questions and listen to understand, not respond.
We are often hesitant to insist people share how they are really doing. It requires going beyond the simple social niceties and making room in the conversation by following up with specific questions. If time is limited, let the person know and follow up with a commitment to connect later. Sometimes you can open a door to meaningful communication by authentically sharing how you are doing.
- Maintain connection.
Reach out and ask someone you suspect is struggling to join you for a low-stress activity. This could include a painting or yoga class, a cup of coffee, a hike, a walk or any mutually enjoyed activity. This may provide an opportunity for meaningful conversations to naturally occur over time, without pressure.
For Those Who Find Themselves Struggling:
- Don’t ignore problems.
Avoidance in any situation is a short-term solution that has very long-term consequences. Whatever is avoided only grows, becoming more of a problem. Seek help now.
- Why suffer?
It’s tempting to think that things will probably get better in a few months, and they very well may, but why suffer? Reaching out for help now may help you understand some fundamental issues that lie at the root of your struggles.
- Don’t be dismissive of mental health.
It’s often hard for us to bring someone into our struggle. We all have pride, and we all have this sense of who we are or what we do. Intimacy can be uncomfortable. We may inherit a belief that seeking help for mental health issues is not for us, that we don’t share our secrets. It’s hard to bring another person in if we think that something is “wrong” with us. Unfortunately, this type of belief is an error in thinking that interferes with our ability to get help and can have tragic consequences.
- Seek help now! Talk to you doctor or other healthcare provider for recommendations to the right mental health services for you. Call 911 if you are in crisis. Mentalhealth.gov has other suggestions for seeking immediate help, including a link to a directory of mental health professionals. You can also visit Caron online for resources.
About Caron Treatment Centers
Caron Treatment Centers is an internationally recognized nonprofit dedicated to addiction and behavioral healthcare treatment, research, prevention, and addiction medicine education. Headquartered in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, our mission is Recovery for Life. For more than 65 years, we have helped thousands of individuals struggling with substance use disorder and their families begin to manage this chronic, treatable disease. Caron provides a continuum of care for teens, young adults, women, men, and older adults. Caron’s signature programming provides concierge treatment for executives, healthcare professionals and older adults. In addition to the Pennsylvania campus, Caron provides services in Palm Beach County, Florida, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and New York City. Caron accepts several major insurance plans and provides financial assistance for those who qualify. For more information, please visit caron.org or @CaronTreatment.
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