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The 2021 Mental State of the World report shows a decline in mental health worldwide, with young adults reporting the poorest outcomes. The report included 34 countries with over 220,000 internet-enabled adults. Ken Duckworth, MD, NAMI Chief Medical Officer, called the survey "extremely well timed and creative, although it only looked at internet-enabled populations, so one cannot make too many overall pronouncements, because a lot of people don't have access to the internet." The data regarding young people are particularly powerful. "The idea that young people are having a decrease in their experience of mental health across the world is something I haven't seen before." Duckworth suggested the reason might "have to do with the impact of the COVID lockdown on normal development that young people go through, while older people don't struggle with these developmental challenges in the same way."
There are growing concerns that the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention hotline, already straining to meet demand, will not be able to deliver on the promises of the overhaul for the launch of 988, unless states supplement the federal money with significant funds for staffing. Within a few years of the introduction of 988, it is likely to attract tens of millions of people seeking help, estimates show. Those projections are driving mental health advocates as they prod state lawmakers to approve funding. “Our concern is very much about whether there will be someone to answer that call when someone is in crisis,” said Hannah Wesolowski, NAMI Chief Advocacy Officer.
The pandemic has affected millions, including teens and young adults. Children from age 8 to 18 have felt and continue to feel the effects of COVID-19. Young people are facing a mental health crisis, one which will have "devastating" effects. While discussing and prioritizing mental health is important, many teens do not want to talk about their thoughts or feelings. "Because there is often stigma attached to mental health conditions, children can feel ashamed to talk about their worries, obsessions, compulsions, impulsivity, and other behavioral problems," states an article by NAMI. "Talk with them about what they are experiencing. Listen with curiosity and empathize with them." And avoid statements which are full of shame and blame.
It has been difficult to find mental health counseling in much of the U.S. for years, long before the pandemic. It is even more difficult to find specialized care for children or those with lower income. At Boston Medical Center, a safety net hospital, staff recently began contacting parents on the 170-person wait list from April 2021 — a 10-month to receive services, said Dr. Christine Crawford, NAMI Associate Medical Director and child psychiatrist at the center. Crawford said the return to school has allowed teachers and others to assess the needs of children who have been seen only by their parents in recent months. The result has been a large surge in referrals to a mental health workforce that has not expanded. “Other adults and teachers are able to lay eyes on these kids,” she said, and they are “bringing up concerns about behavioral issues and emotional issues.” According to AACAP, there are just 8,300 practicing child psychiatrists in the U.S. for the more than 15 million young people in need of help. Pediatricians are doing initial assessments, Crawford said, with only the most severe cases reaching her.
President Biden’s new plan to expand mental health and substance use treatment would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into suicide prevention, mental health services for youth, and community clinics providing 24/7 access to people in crisis. It was unveiled as part of his State of the Union speech. Health insurance plans would have to cover three mental health visits a year at no added cost to patients. “And let’s get all Americans the mental health services they need,” Biden said in his speech. “More people can turn for help. And full parity between physical and mental health care if we treat it that way in our insurance.” That’s been the unrealized goal of federal health care laws dating back nearly 25 years, said Hannah Wesolowski, NAMI Chief Advocacy Officer. “This represents an important agenda that impacts every American,” said Wesolowski, referring to Biden’s plan.
There are support groups for family members or friends of loved ones living with a mental health condition. The National Alliance on Mental Illness and other regional groups offer support groups for families and friends. “We use a loose definition of ‘family,’” says Teri Brister, chief program officer at NAMI. “If you’re the source of support for an individual with mental illness and want to learn more than about their condition, then there are specific support groups for those individuals as well.” Look for a support group connected to an established organization that provides training to support group leaders. The National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America both offer trainings for leaders. Your doctor may also have recommendations for support groups connected to a local hospital, clinic or community center. According to Brister, “What works best are when leaders of the support group are trained and follow a structured, traditionally consistent process.”
One-time, acute crisis response is just one service inRESPONSE provides, at a cost of $1.1 million this year. Another innovative element is the “system navigators” who provide long-term, wraparound support to members of the community before and after mental health crises. The system navigators not only follow up after emergency incidents, but also operate a non-emergency hotline anyone can call to find outside resources and services. This element of the inRESPONSE program is “very unique,” according to Shannon Scully, senior manager on criminal justice policy at NAMI. “Santa Rosa is doing something that’s spot on in terms of what we see as best practices,” Scully said, because continual care ensures “you’re providing that connection to resources before the moment of crisis, as well as long after to help someone remain engaged.”
Julie Rovner interviews Hannah Wesolowski, NAMI CAO, about how the pandemic has worsened the nation’s mental health crisis and what can be done about it. Hannah discusses the rollout of 988 on July 16, 2022 and the need for community-based continuum of crisis services — 24/7 call centers that answer 988 calls locally, mobile crisis teams and crisis stabilization programs.
Police encounters during a mental health crisis have a greater chance of turning deadly if you’re Black. New response mechanisms bypass law enforcement and result in helpful interventions. Reporter Jenee Darden looks at how folks in Northern California are trying to reimagine crisis response services. Shannon Scully, senior manager of criminal justice policy at NAMI, discusses how mental health training for police officers is not consistent across states or local communities. She discusses 988 and the three things needed: someone to talk to, someone to respond and somewhere to go for mental health crisis treatment.
Eleanor Owen, a fierce advocate in the world of mental health policy who co-founded the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Downtown Emergency Service Center, has died at the age of 101 at her home in Seattle. A “force of nature” according to her friends and family, Owen’s work included amending Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act, which lays out when a person can be involuntarily committed for psychiatric care. “Anyone who cares about mental illness, and the people it touches, owes this remarkable woman a tremendous debt of gratitude,” explained NAMI CEO Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. in a statement. NAMI now has more than 600 state organizations and affiliates across the country.
In a crisis? Call or text 988.