By Rochelle Rothwell, President and CEO of Rose Hill Center
As the year 2021 ushers in hope toward an end to the pandemic, there also may be a point of light in a new era of empathy in the world of mental health. This could be the year the shame of mental illness finally ends for everyday Americans.
Even though great strides have been made in the past decade to improve understanding of mental illness and reduce its stigma, many individuals and their families still feel discomfort talking about it openly. However, COVID-19 has put a spotlight on depression and anxiety, helping to ignite nationwide conversation on the topic.
Anxiety and depression are two of the many terrible side effects of this pandemic. It is impacting people who have said they never suffered mental illness until this year, and also among individuals with lifelong mental health battles. The troubling trends are sparked by fear, loneliness, and isolation. Thankfully today, more of us are willing to discuss it. Click on any social media outlet, there’s a public willingness to openly engage in conversation about these struggles.
The 2021 State of Mental Health in America report confirms that mental health in the U.S. continues to worsen – and policymakers at every level of government need to act immediately.
Mental Health America’s report states that even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental illness among adults was already increasing. In 2017-2018, 19 percent of adults reported having experienced a mental illness, a rise of 1.5 million people over the previous two years. Furthermore, more than 24 percent of adults with mental illness said there was an unmet need for treatment. That number hasn’t declined since 2011.
Since the pandemic, the number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed — a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. Still, 2020 did see strides: research grew in the areas of precision medicine where scientists are drawing blood and scanning the brains of patients with depression to try to pinpoint depression types and determine the best treatments. The National Institute of Health launched a campaign to collect DNA and other data from 1 million Americans to try to understand the biology of mental illness.
While 2021 will see mental illness as a more mainstream conversation, there is hope the incoming Biden administration in Washington, D.C., will place its treatment higher on the nation’s agenda.
The President-Elect has said that 2021 will see a push on treatment, according to Mental Health For Us. For example, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death for American youth. Frighteningly, every day, 20 military veterans die by suicide. Biden said as president he would “redouble” efforts to ensure enforcement of mental health parity laws and expand funding for services care.
His plan includes:
- Publish within the first 200 days in office a comprehensive public health and cross-sector approach to addressing suicide in veterans, service members, and their families.
- Work to facilitate immediate access to mental health services for veterans in crisis.
- “Use the bully pulpit of the White House to eliminate the stigma around mental health.”
Leaders at The Biden Foundation write that mental health is a human issue and that one in five Americans will live with a diagnosable mental health condition at some point during their lifetime. But, there is so much that we can all do to make sure that people get the support they need to survive and thrive.
We must continue to work together in 2021 as a new year and new administration can change the way we view mental illness. When COVID dissipates, the resources for mental illness treatment and continued breaking down of stigma must continue.
Rochelle Rothwell is President and CEO at Rose Hill Center, a Holly, Mich.-based residential psychiatric treatment and rehabilitation facility offering a comprehensive range of services for adults with serious mental illness. For more info, visit www.rosehillcenter.org.