Find Your Local NAMI
Call the NAMI Helpline at
Or in a crisis, text "NAMI" to 741741
Many people may be experiencing increased anxiety during the pandemic, which experts say can be compounded by the sense of isolation that can come with social distancing. That's why it's important for people who are vulnerable to increased anxiety to have access mental health care. "It's also really important to remember that one in five Americans had a diagnosed mental health condition before the pandemic," said Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI. Those people still need access to mental health care, he said. Duckworth also stressed the importance of telehealth services and phone sessions for people without internet access. "Pain shared is pain halved," Duckworth said.
Prevalence of depression among college students increased since the pandemic closed campuses this spring compared with fall 2019, according to a Healthy Minds Network survey of 18,000 college students. And of the nearly 42% of students who sought mental health care during the pandemic, 60% said it was either much more or somewhat more difficult to access care. Teens need mental health support in quarantine, just as others do, said Jennifer Rothman, NAMI senior manager of youth and young adult initiatives. Call volume at NAMI's HelpLine is up 65% compared with last year, she said, averaging more than 200 calls a day. Most calls ask for support with anxiety. Teenage requests are similar, Rothman said, "and especially with COVID-19, and the social isolation, the change in structure and day-to-day activities and routines, we're seeing an increase in some of these symptoms" of anxiety and depression.
Mental illness is so prevalent in the U.S. that we now have a reduced life expectancy as a result of 2 specific causes, and the pandemic is only making things worse. Dr. Ken Duckworth, the CMO for NAMI, joins Dr. Hallowell to talk about how his organization helps those with bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, schizophrenia, depression, thoughts of suicide, and other conditions.
It’s always been a challenge for the health care system that much of what affects a person’s health happens outside the doctor’s office—and beyond the reach of even the most attentive physician. Those hard-to-manage factors are many, from behavioral ones to socially-determined ones (like whether there’s access to healthy food or a safe home) to matters of mental health. Adrienne Kennedy, a board member of NAMI, explained the organization was very intentional about representation for that reason. “We have young people speaking out about the emergence of their own mental health issues. We want to make sure they are culturally competent," she said. “It’s so important to have the lived experience voices involved in the mix," she said. “What people will offer once they get engaged—this trust factor is so important.”
The Latinx community is often discouraged from seeking mental health care due to cultural norms, social pressures and lack of access to bilingual resources and providers, but it is crucial to dismantle these barriers to heal. Latinx members typically do not seek treatment for their mental health because they fear judgment, Monica Villalta, national director of inclusion and diversity officer at NAMI, tells Yahoo Life. “A huge factor is the stigma – it is not only our own self-silencing, but it’s also that when we go to the systems of care offering mental health services, we don’t feel welcome.” Villalta adds that three generations of her family were silent on important matters, adding that it took years of exposure to a new culture to “understand that I can speak about these things and share my story.”
A variety of COVID-19 support groups have emerged to help those who have had, or been affected by, the virus. Teri Brister, PhD, LPC, national director of research and quality assurance at NAMI, said support groups give people encouragement as well as valuable insights not available from healthcare providers. “With the scope and reach that COVID-19 is having on our society, it is only logical that support groups would be seen as a valuable resource for people who have experienced its effects firsthand,” Brister told Healthline. More people are reporting experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety now than this time last year, or even 6 months ago. That can be from having COVID-19, being exposed to the virus, or simply living through a pandemic. “The experience of a mass trauma… learning to navigate an environment with uncontrolled exposure to an airborne pathogen with no known vaccine or cure is stress-inducing,” Brister said.
In the wake of nationwide demonstrations against police brutality, there has been a surge in interest in making sure mental health providers, not law enforcement, are the ones to respond to a psychiatric crisis. Dozens of cities across the country have what are known as mobile crisis units, which deploy trained professionals to respond to people experiencing a mental health crisis with compassion and clinical expertise. Now, with their work thrust into the spotlight, mobile crisis teams have been flooded with calls from other communities hoping to replicate their models. “I think the timing, the mood of the country is right to take some significant steps,” said Angela Kimball, the national director of advocacy and public policy at NAMI. There’s a need to build an infrastructure that can respond to people in crisis and get them the help that might be needed.
Bipolar disorder is broadly defined as a cycle of manic and depressive episodes, but there are actually three different types of bipolar disorder. According to Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO of NAMI, bipolar I disorder is characterized by manic episodes lasting at least a week, or manic symptoms that often require immediate hospital care. The episodes of mania are typically followed by a period of depression. Duckworth said that since bipolar disorder is relatively cyclical, episodes may be triggered by similar things, such as time changes or changes in the seasons. "(Bipolar disorder) is a recurring wave that keeps coming at you," he said. "It might come 20 times in a lifetime, it might come 10 times or three times ... There's no simple answers." Duckworth said that for the most part, the best way to treat bipolar disorder is through a combination of a mood stabilizer, psychotherapy and community support connections. "There is no cure, but people can live successful lives with bipolar disorder," he said.
Tiera Hopkins loved to dance and was a fun-loving vibrant teen, said her mother, Jenny Morales. In 2012, at the age of 16, Tiera died of suicide. Morales’ grief still feels overwhelming, but she has become an advocate for destigmatizing mental health in teenagers and encouraging parents and teens to talk about it. Often people feel afraid to discuss suicide because they worry they’ll put that idea in someone’s head. But Dr. Ken Duckworth, CMO at NAMI, said that’s not true. “Mentioning suicide does not activate a new idea within people," he told TODAY. “You do not put suicide in someone’s head.” Duckworth said many survivors of suicide feel guilty that they didn’t notice a sign or didn’t do something and he wants them to know that a loved one’s suicide is not their fault. “It is valuable for parents to talk about suicide with their teens and to be really candid about it, and maybe even directly ask them how they’re feeling,” Duckworth said.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741