May is Mental Health Awareness month. Living through an unprecedented experience like the COVID-19 pandemic has helped raise awareness of the importance of mental health and its connection to physical health. Mental health plays a significant role in our overall well-being and yet it has not been openly discussed in our culture until recently. Because of past attitudes towards mental illness, many individuals may be hesitant to reach out for help and many still do not receive the care or the support needed to live their healthiest lives possible.
You Are Not Alone
In the U.S., one in five adults experience mental health issues within their lifetime. This number may be grossly underestimated, as many individuals do not openly discuss or seek treatment for mental health issues, including addiction. The pandemic may have increased mental health issues even further. Out of the one in five reported, only half of these individuals receive the care and support required. This can occur for a number of reasons. Individuals may not have access to mental health support; some do not know how to access support that is available; or some have accessed it but have not received proper treatment in the past.
Did you know that fifty-five percent of all U.S. counties lack a single practicing psychiatrist? Depending on where patients live in this country, they may lack adequate behavioral health services. Additionally, many individuals may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid of admitting they are struggling with mental health issues. This is because mental health has long been stigmatized in this country.
Incorporating mental health into the whole health of the individual is a necessary shift. This can start at the individual level when a patient acknowledges that they are struggling and accepts that they need to seek the help required. Knowing that they are not alone in their struggle is key. Family members, friends, and healthcare providers play a role in providing the support needed to get well.
Destigmatizing Mental Health
Unlike superheroes, human beings are not indestructible. We face numerous pressures, obligations, and situations throughout our lives. Sometimes we are able to rise to the occasion; sometimes we can’t. Just like physical health concerns, mental health issues arise from a variety of factors such as genetics, environment, and other determinants such as stressful life situations and chronic illness.
Additionally, certain demographics tend to have higher rates of mental health issues. Individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual individuals) may face a lack of acceptance from their family, friends, or community and may struggle because of this. Women are also more likely to experience depression and anxiety than men, and both men and women are affected differently by these disorders.
Feelings such as loneliness, sadness that won’t go away, constant worrying, obsessive thoughts, fear that leads to panic attacks, uncontrollable anger, anxiety and depression related to chronic pain, and addiction to substances such as alcohol and drugs can disrupt our lives. Having mental health issues does not make a person weak or any less worthy or capable of living a valuable life than individuals without mental health issues. Getting the help needed is the first step and that requires reaching out to a trusted provider or mental health specialist such as a counselor or therapist.
Integrating Physical and Mental Wellness
Intermountain Health in Nevada approaches mental health by recognizing that mind and body go hand-in-hand. Mental health impacts physical health and vice versa. At our myGeneration Clinics, we’re piloting Mental Health Integration so that our patients can address and receive care for both behavioral health and physical health through their trusted primary care provider. Our older patients have been especially hard hit due to the pandemic and are likely to need extra support and care due to prolonged isolation and stress over the past year. Trust is integral to care and our primary care providers work with a care team and the patient to provide the best treatment plan based on the patient’s needs.
Mental health is crucial to overall well-being and quality of life. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, reach out to your provider. If you are having suicidal ideation, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.