President’s Update: May 2022

May 25, 2022

We Need to Talk About Mental Health

Wendy Nickel

May 24, 2022

My heart is heavy today as news trickles in about the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, which so far, has claimed the lives of 19 innocent children and 2 adults. The dinner table was quiet tonight, as I thought about what to say to my own children, ages 17, 16 and 13. My oldest son was teaching science at an elementary school today as part of a high school program – he was especially quiet.

In the aftermath of the shooting, I can predict the requisite conversations about gun control and social media influences. There will be discussions about mental health and the need for better resources and tools, and suggestions about how to mend a broken system. But these same discussions occurred after Sandy Hook… and all of the mass shootings since, and not much has changed.

It’s time to have a serious conversation about mental health. We can’t afford NOT to talk about it. We can’t afford to lose more elementary school children or people shopping in a grocery store or people going to see a movie or people going to religious services. We can’t afford to have conversations about mental health only after mass shootings. We should be talking about it every minute of every hour of every day. This Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s pledge to keep talking about mental health long after May is over.

According to the World Health Organization, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% during the first year of the COVID pandemic. Youth have experienced the biggest impacts: 15% of youths experienced major depressive disorder in 2019 (up 1.24% from the previous year) – over 60% did not receive any mental health treatment. In Texas, nearly 75% did not receive mental health treatment. (Source: Reinert, M, Fritze, D. & Nguyen, T. October 2021. “The State of Mental Health in America 2022” Mental Health America, Alexandria VA.). These numbers don’t account for the impact of COVID-19, which likely only exacerbated the increase in mental health disorders over the past two years.

The reasons for the growing mental health crisis are numerous and complex. They include a paucity of behavioral health providers, lack of parity in reimbursement for physical vs. mental health services, continued stigmatization of mental disorders, and a system that is only set up to address mental health crises, as opposed to preventing them in the first place. Isolation, disruption in social opportunities, and barriers to health and social services have added to pre-pandemic challenges.

It’s time to talk as a nation about solutions to the mental health crisis in America, starting with promoting mental health as essential to physical health. It’s time to talk about developing policy to ensure reimbursement parity for mental health services. We need to talk about creating a pathway for more to pursue careers in behavioral health and entertain innovative models, such as training community peers and embedding behavioral health providers in school systems. We need to talk about mental wellness and the known best practices for taking time out of your day to employ these strategies. We need to be having conversations about how to ensure individuals who are at higher risk for experiencing mental health disorders, such as BIPOC and transgender youth, have access to the services they need. We need to talk about taking care of our communities and removing the stressors that cause mental health disorders. Let’s promise to keep talking out loud about mental health and taking action to solve the complex problems that are in front of us. HCIF can be your partner in these conversations and we pledge to bring together stakeholders to find solutions. Take time to pay attention to your own mental health as we take on this challenge – we’re going to need your strength. Talk to your colleagues, your friends, your loved ones, and especially your children about the importance of mental wellness. Please feel free to reach out to me or any of our HCIF staff members if you want to talk.

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