May was established as mental health awareness month in 1948. Ironically the following year, in 1949, Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his development of the prefrontal lobotomy. We have come a long way. Still, 70 years later, there is so much we have to learn about the messy complex human brain. As a result, mental illness has often been dismissed as weakness.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health, one in five Americans live with some form of mental illness. Despite the need, our mental health care system is broken and has been for some time. Data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows over half of those adults with mental illness do not receive any treatment. One reason may be that those with psychiatric disorders frequently can not find available resources due to a shortage of providers. The high cost of treatment also puts urgently needed care out of range for many.
The stigma surrounding mental health remains a key factor keeping people from seeking assistance. In a country based on individualism and freedom, America’s prevailing attitude toward mental illness has generally been to suck it up and deal with it. The truth is we all have our mental issues and could probably all benefit from a little counseling. Fortunately, society is finally beginning to talk about mental health, and connections are even being drawn between physical and psychological well-being. Stress, trauma and depression have been shown to have direct impacts on the body, including high blood pressure, weight gain or loss, lack of energy and sleep disorders. Younger generations are beginning to vocalize their mental struggles and appear to be more open to counseling than previous ones. However, in 2019, the CDC ranked suicide as the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 34.
The stress and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic exacerbated mental health issues. According to the CDC, substance abuse has increased during the pandemic by approximately 30 percent, resulting in a record number of overdoses. For youth, emergency room visits from mental health conditions increased 24 percent in the 5-11 age group and 31 percent in 12-17-year-olds. Eating disorders were on the rise amongst both age groups as well.
The San Juan Island School District recently updated its mental health policies to ensure the needs of its students and staff are met. For families that need additional assistance with children in need of phycological care, the Joyce Sobel Family Resource Center also has services available.Visit https://sjifrc.org/medical-services/ to learn more.
To help residents through these rough times, Washington State established Washington Listens for those feeling sad or stressed due to the pandemic. Call 1-833-681-0211 Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. or on weekends from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. TSR 771 and language access services are available.
We should never be ashamed to ask for help with mental struggles. Like physical pain, psychological distress should be taken seriously, for it can be just as fatal. Suicide, substance abuse and eating disorders are just a few examples.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental crisis, the San Juan County website has an entire page dedicated to mental health resources. Visit https://www.sanjuanco.com/1697/Resources-for-Mental-Health-Support.