Mental health is an important part of our overall health and wellbeing. COVID-19 has exacerbated mental illness, and the recent tragedies around the nation have all pushed mental health further into the spotlight.
While more than 1 million adults have a diagnosed mental health condition in Arizona, 40.8% of the adult population has reported feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to the most recent statistics available from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Diving deeper, 257,000 Arizonans have a serious mental illness and 87,000 youth ages 12-17 suffer from depression.
Though nearly half of Arizonans will experience a mental illness, all of us can experience poor mental health — especially during times of stress, such as COVID-19, worries about family finances, children’s safety, and world events.
Poor mental health comes in many forms and levels of severity, it is not always evident how much a person is impacted. Individuals may not be willing to ask for help, so determining the actual number of individuals struggling with mental wellness is challenging.
Though some Arizonans genuinely may not realize they are experiencing mental illness, others may shy away from treatment because of the stigma associated with conditions that include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and more. COVID-19 helped reduce some of the stigma around seeking help, especially when it comes to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder associated with the pandemic.
The pandemic also resulted in policy changes that improved access to behavioral health care. Access to virtual behavioral health care was a game changer in Arizona, which has historically not had enough behavioral health providers to provide care for its population.
It is important to recognize that family and friends play a critical role in identifying poor mental health and can often serve as a support system. The first step begins with equipping them with the tools to know how to respond.
• Identifying warning signs. These can include personality changes, especially withdrawal or obsessive thoughts; anxiety and apathy; changes in eating or sleeping; overuse of alcohol or use of drugs; and extreme highs and lows that include anger, irritability, or emotional dysregulation.
• Getting trained in mental health first aid. Mental health first aid provides training in English and Spanish for adults, youth, teens, first responders, employees, veterans, older adults, and many other groups. In fact, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona offers training to its employees and leaders of employer groups, as well as funding to school districts to provide this training to their employees.
• Taking care of yourself. Being part of a support system means taking good care of yourself so that you can help friends or loved ones who are trying to cope with stress.
• Being present. Reach out to loved ones and family often to see how they are doing. These routine wellbeing checks can identify any changes in behavior that may shed light on their mental health status.
• Educating yourself about mental health resources. There are numerous free and confidential resources and tools available to connect you or a loved one with a counselor. Health care or insurance providers are often the best sources of information to find highly qualified resources that can help.
Similarly, if you sense someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and is at risk for hurting themselves, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) can provide immediate crisis counseling, 24/7, by phone or chat.
Starting July 16, callers can dial 988, which has been designated as the Lifeline’s new three-digit dialing code.
• Speaking up. If you see something, say something. Even if you don’t feel equipped to handle a potential mental health issue, let a first responder or health care provider know that a loved one needs help.
Mental illness is highly treatable and the more you know, the better the advocate and stronger the support system you can be.
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