The second year of the pandemic is upon us, and we are understandably weary. The pandemic has impacted us not only physically but also mentally.
FAIR Health, in a study of the effects of the pandemic on U.S. pediatric mental health, reviewed 32 billion private healthcare claim records from January to November 2020, compared to the same months in 2019 for people 22 or younger. The mental health claims for March and April of 2020 were nearly double those of March and April of 2019 for individuals ages 13-18. This increase in mental health claims continued through November 2020.
There were marked increases in claims for intentional self-harm, anxiety, depression, overdoses and substance use disorder. It is safe to say that the impact in our community has been similar and the longer-term impact is still being written. We know that in disasters, there is a long-term impact on mental health after the disaster is over, and we don’t know yet when the pandemic will be over.
In May, we recognize Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week and Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, in the shadow of the pandemic, the focus of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week is more important than ever. Caring for your mental health is a vital part of living a healthy and fulfilling life.
Experiencing mental health concerns is not uncommon, and it is vitally important that you ask for help. One in six children ages 6-17 experiences a mental health disorder each year, and in June 2020, 40% of adults in the U.S. reported struggling with their mental health or substance use.
We need to stop the stigma. What should concern us is that only 45% of adults and 51% of children with a mental health condition are seeking treatment. Offering acceptance, support and respect for those experiencing mental illness in our community can make the difference. We do not stigmatize physical illness; why do we with mental illness?
As brain science advances, we realize the strong connection between our physical and mental health. Just like with physical health, prevention strategies and early intervention are important in addressing our mental health. The sooner you begin to treat mental illness, the sooner symptoms improve and coping strategies can be added.
Does it surprise you to know that the average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years? Would we put off seeking medical care that many years? Our mental health is equally important.
The impact of delaying or not addressing mental health issues can be devastating. We know suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-34 and the 10th-leading cause of death in Nebraska and the country. In Nebraska, suicide is the leading cause of death for men ages 15-44 and the second leading cause of death, behind heart disease, for men 45-54. What does an 11-year (or longer) delay in seeking services mean in terms of pain, suffering and worsening symptoms for these individuals and their loved ones?
This is an important time to join the conversation and reinforce the need to care for our mental health, ask for help and destigmatize seeking services. Know that there are many in our community who offer help, including HopeSpoke. Helplines related to suicide and mental health crisis are available 24/7. These can be accessed through the MyLNK app or by calling 211, at no charge.
You are not alone, and help is available. Start the conversation, and help stop the stigma; it can be a matter of life and death.
Katie McLeese Stephenson is executive director of HopeSpoke. She lives in Lincoln.