This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
World Mental Health Day is Monday, Oct. 10, 2022 — an opportunity to take stock of our mental well-being especially in light of the mental health crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People all over the world have been impacted by our mental health crisis,” said Dr. Rebecca Brendel, president of the American Psychiatric Association. Based in Boston, she is an attorney as well a physician and is director of the master’s program in bioethics at Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics.
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“On this World Mental Health Day, it’s a great opportunity to check in with ourselves about our own mental wellness and to know that it’s OK to ask for support or help if we are struggling,” she told Fox News Digital.
She added, “We also need to encourage others in our life to do the same.”
What is mental health?
“Mental health may best be thought of as the alliance of emotional, cognitive, physical, spiritual and political states informed by euthenics toward the empowerment of human existence and well-being,” said Dr. Christopher L. Edwards, retired associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
Before the pandemic started, the World Health Organization (WHO) said approximately one in eight people in the world were living with a mental health disorder.
But COVID-19 worsened the mental health crisis.
Anxiety and depression disorders increased more than 25% during the first year of the pandemic, while COVID-19 also made mental health services less accessible, according to the WHO.
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Yet other world conflicts, such as the ongoing war in Ukraine, violence, public health emergencies and continued social and economic disparities compounded the crisis with “a staggering 84 million people worldwide [who] were forcibly displaced during 2021,” per a recent WHO press release.
“Our health care system is struggling to help people in crisis as well as families who have been struggling.”
“The mental health of Americans has been severely stressed by the pandemic, by social unrest and economic challenges over the past few years,” said Dr. Jürgen Unützer, professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.
“We are seeing increasing rates of suicides and drug overdoses, sometimes referred to as ‘deaths of despair,’ and our health care system is struggling to help people in crisis as well as families who have been struggling with disabling brain disorders and mental health disorders for a long time,” he also said.
How the pandemic motivated change
The pandemic led to more conversation about people’s mental health struggles and inspired positive change to improve the mental health crisis, according to professionals.
“There are silver linings: The pandemic has made many of us more comfortable talking about the fact that mental health is an important part of all health,” Unützer told Fox News Digital.
Dr. Edwards said that people worldwide seem more willing to discuss and acknowledge the often stigmatized disorders such as depression and anxiety “and attribute these to the ubiquitous and omnipresent state of human existence known as ‘stressed.’”
Depression and anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health disorders for both men and women and can impact our ability to work effectively, per a WHO report.
More than 280 million people around the world are living with depression.
Specifically, more than 280 million people around the world are living with depression — it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to a 2021 WHO press release.
But the pandemic highlighted the “disproportionate burden” of current mental health crises among people of color and also those without economic advantages and or political influence, Edwards told Fox News Digital.
Tips and help for managing stress
“A lot of stresses have to do with how we interact with others,” said Dr. Elie G. Aoun, addiction and forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York City and a member of the American Psychiatric Association Board of Trustees.
People should avoid engaging in stressful situations if they can, in order to help themselves.
“For example, if you are feeling overheated with work, hold off on engaging in a difficult conversation” if you believe it may make you feel more stressed, he indicated.
Those with depression may lose interest in activities that they typically enjoy, such as running or working out.
“For example, if someone likes to run, when they’re depressed they may not want to run,” Aoun told Fox News Digital.
If this happens, first try to run one block, then two blocks — gradually running each time a little more. This may slowly undo the behavioral consequences of depression, he explained.
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He also encourages an assessment of the stressors in our life. “Stressors can be put aside temporarily,” he noted.
He suggested a psychotherapeutic intervention called behavioral activation that requires people to make a list of the activities that they don’t want to do when they are depressed.
“First rank in order [those activities] that you are most likely to do and least likely to do — then try to do the ones that are easiest, then work on the ones that are hardest,” Aoun recommended.
How can this situation improve?
Edwards said our nation’s mental health will improve by increasing access to qualified mental health professionals and leading efforts to “de-stigmatize mental illness as we have done with cancer, HIV and many other diseases that we now embrace,” Edwards noted.
Now there is a dedicated number to call when you have a mental health emergency in the United States.
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“The federal government has been working on rolling a new crisis response system across the country — starting with a new number, 988, that people all over the country can now call when they or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis or emergency,” Unützer added.
“But we have a long way to go to build a system of care that can address all of the behavioral health needs of Americans,” Unützer told Fox News Digital.
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“With investment, the mental health of the nation can be better than our COVID-19 premorbid status,” Edwards added.