The President’s Proclamation
President Biden has issued a Proclamation on National Mental Health Awareness Month, 2021, citing that “Millions of adults and children across America experience mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.” The proclamation also states that although approximately 20% of Americans has a mental health condition, discrimination and other barriers deters people from seeking help for their conditions.
Mental Health Month was established in 1949 by Mental Health America (MHA), a community-based nonprofits organization that is dedicated to helping to address mental illness and promoting mental health for everyone. MHA’s Mental Health Month 2021 website has a variety of content for screening, becoming informed, donating, stopping suicide, information and mental health resources related to COVID-19, and information about advocating for mental health. Participating in Mental Health Month is a great way to learn more and get involved while advocating for mental health. The theme for Mental Health Month 2021 is “Tools 2 Thrive.” The 2021 Mental Health Toolkit contains sample materials for communications and social media as well as printable handouts on the following topics:
- Adapting after trauma and stress
- Dealing with anger and frustration
- Getting out of thinking traps
- Processing big changes
- Taking time for yourself
- Radical acceptance
The 2021 Mental health Month Toolkit is also available in Spanish. Another way to learn more about how to promote mental health might be to attend the MHA 2021 Annual Conference being held June 10-12, 2021 in Washington, DC. The theme for this year’s conference is From Resiliency to Recovery, and the hybrid event will consist of a small in-person gathering and a digital conference experience. For more information visit the conference website.
The Current State of Mental Health in America
Each year MHA publishes The State of Mental Health in America report. The data is obtained from the online screening tool, MHAscreening.org, and reports the number of people reporting signs of anxiety and depression. Through the MHA screening tool data collected between January and September 2020 the report shows:
- “More than half a million people have reported signs of anxiety and/or depression, with Sept. reporting the highest rate of severity since the start of the pandemic. Anxiety screens were up by 634% from January and depression screens were up 873%).
- More than 1.5 million people have taken MHA’s online screening and looked for immediate resources and support at MHAscreening.org.
- Nearly 180,000 people who took the screening reported suicidal ideation on more than half the days or nearly every day, with the highest reported number of 37% in September 2020.
- Rates of suicidal ideation are highest among youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth. In September 2020, over half of 11-17-year-olds reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than half or nearly every day of the previous two weeks. From Jan. to Sept. 2020, nearly 78,000 youth reported experiencing frequent suicidal ideation, including nearly 28,000 LGBTQ+ youth.
- Between April and Sept., 70% of people reported that loneliness or isolation was the top contributing factor to mental health issues, followed by past trauma (46.1%) and relationship problems (42%)” (Mental Health in America – Printed Reports).
The MHA report includes state ranking which reflect both adults and youth age (12-17). The rankings reflect data collected between 2017 and 2018, and establishes the state of the nation’s ability to manage the mental health effects of the pandemic. At that time, Vermont ranked #1 for overall mental health. See a complete list of state rankings here.
While prior to the pandemic the number of people in the U.S. with mental health conditions was already rising, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of adults experiencing anxiety or depression has risen from 36.4% to 41.5%, with 11.7% reporting their mental health care needs are unmet (Vahratian et al., 2021). According to the article about this phenomenon, there are several reasons for this.
- Outbreaks of infectious disease cause fear and grief due to associated disease and deaths.
- Necessary limits on social activities, nonessential businesses, and steps to minimize the spread of disease result in isolation and reduced employment, which increase the risk of mental health problems.
- The same social limitations result in decreased availability of treatment options until strategies, such as increased use of telehealth, can be implemented to meet treatment needs.
Researchers for this web-based study also found that certain populations, such as young adults, Hispanic persons, black persons, essential workers, unpaid adult caregivers, and people being treated for preexisting psychiatric conditions were disproportionately affected by mental health conditions. Limitations included that full diagnostic evaluations for anxiety disorder or depressive disorder were not performed; the study did not identify the source of trauma and stressor related symptoms; the study relied on self-reporting of substance use; and the population using the web-based survey might not be representative of the general U.S. population.
Although the data is admittedly preliminary and for a limited time frame, the implications for higher prevalence of mental and behavioral health conditions during the pandemic are numerous. These include the broad impact of simply needing to treat and prevent mental and behavioral health disorders, but can also include the following list of ways that providers, policy makers, and others can address the mental health needs of Americans:
- Develop COVID-19-specific screening tools to better identify trauma and stressor related disorders and those who might be at risk for unhealthy coping;
- Conduct long term periodic assessment for mental health and substance use disorders, and suicidal ideation;
- Expand the availability of technological means of delivering mental health and substance use disorder treatment, such as use of telehealth;
- Increase the use of communication strategies specifically culturally and linguistically tailored to minority and underserved populations;
- Conduct additional research into factors that influence or drive the development of mental health and behavioral health disorders during a pandemic, such as social isolation, lack of educational structures, reduced rates of employment, financial concerns, and the influence of different types of violence;
- Implement prevention and intervention strategies at the community level that provide economic support, assist with social connectedness, support those at risk of suicide, and help to address and reduce stress for those who have experienced discrimination (Czeisler et al, 2020).
Many behavioral health and substance disorder treatment providers are currently using these and other strategies, but the list may be helpful for those who are not. Additional resources will be listed at the bottom of the page and in the CASAT OnDemand Resources & Downloads page. The Catalyst Blog has numerous related articles for mental health, substance use disorder treatment, recovery, prevention, and more.