We have all probably seen some of the statistics. Completed suicides in some parts of the U.S. are expected to increase 32% over the next two years. Prescriptions for Zoloft rose 12 percent year-over-year to 4.9 million in March, representing the highest level ever in the U.S. A Kaiser poll reports almost half of the U.S. population claims that the protracted pandemic-related crisis is hindering their mental health. Compared to a year ago, a federal emergency hotline for those experiencing psychological affliction documented a 1,000 percent increase in calls. A surge in mental health needs is soon to be upon us.
Along with “everything else,” this is sobering news and a reminder that even when we see decreasing numbers of COVID-19 related deaths and hospitalizations, the mental health impact will be the “tail of the dragon” – referring to a menacing, and often unanticipated, secondary impact that occurs after a major antecedent event.
“So, what do we, what can we, do about it?”
The response is personal, as well as societal – just like the challenges we face. On a personal level, we need to manage the things in our control.
- Get perspective: One of the biggest realizations we can make is knowing that our increased stress level is a typical and natural response to a very atypical situation. It’s okay to feel stressed; know that you are absolutely NOT alone.
- Help someone else: You will feel better when you reach out to someone else to check on them, do something (even something little) nice for them, maybe even do something anonymously for a friend who needs a hand.
- Take care of your body: Eat healthful meals (though, I’m sure a little chocolate is okay J), and exercise.
- Don’t make any “unforced errors” – the old tennis term: Avoid alcohol and other drugs.
- Connect with others: Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Talk to a clergy member, counselor, or doctor.
- Stay informed: However, avoid too much exposure to news. When you do view news, consider insights from several perspectives, and try to objectively find “reality.”
- IMPORTANT: Do these things in an ongoing manner to maintain good insight and avoid the dragon’s tail.
Societally, we need to decamp. The behavioral health of our communities is damaged as people become increasingly polarized – less tolerant of differing opinions; quick to label someone with a differing viewpoint “bad or evil.” It is difficult for any one of us to single-handedly change society, yet we can each change “our little corner” of it. In addition to the personal responses noted above, we can impact our community in several ways.
- Volunteer: Most areas include senior citizen communities, church ministry outreaches, children’s services agencies, and other places that always need additional support. The “one you” has the ability to impact the “many” who most need a friendly face.
- Reduce mental health stigma: Research by Pescosolido finds that 58% do not want people with mental illness in their workplaces, and approximately 60% believe that individuals with mental illness are violent. Know that it is perfectly normal to connect with a friend, counselor, clergy, or other. When someone shares their struggles with someone close to them, the most common response is, “Really? Me too!”
- Prioritize things in your life and help community organizations prioritize their work: Health systems, Community Action Agencies, and even governments conduct Needs Assessments and do Strategic Planning all the time. The purpose is that no organization can do everything for everybody – they must use resources wisely. [NOTE: Crescendo has worked for decades on this exact issue.]
In our piece of society, as we each work together to positively impact a few highly important objectives – ones affecting the greatest number of people or the neediest among us – we can more effectively serve our community, avoid or lower the magnitude of behavioral health needs, and avoid future menacing and unanticipated events – the dragon’s tail.