The chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association (APA), Arthur C. Evans Jr. Ph.D., stated that Americans are going through an extended period of stress with grief, trauma, and isolation during the pandemic. He expressed concern that this can lead to serious chronic physical health and mental health problems in the coming years.
One need not look to the future because there are already many Americans with mental health problems today. The APA survey in late February 2021 shows that among people whose mental health issues worsened during the pandemic, 43 percent were Gen Z adults aged 18 to 24 years old, 33 percent were Gen X adults aged 41 to 56 years old, 31 percent were millennials aged 25 to 40 years old, 28 percent were Boomers aged 57 to 75 years old, and nine percent were older adults. Mental illness occurs not just in adults but also among children.
Current State of Mental Health in the U.S.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), in 2021 19 percent of American adults or 47 million people have mental illness defined as any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that is diagnosable and is not substance use or a developmental disorder. Of these, 4.55 percent are suffering from severe mental health problems. Estimates show that more than 10.7 million adults in the U.S. have serious suicidal thoughts, an increase of 460,000 cases over the previous year. Only 4.34 percent are reporting this, though.
Among the youth aged 12 to 17 years old, 13.84 percent went through at least one major depressive episode in the past 12 months, an increase of 206,000 cases from the previous year. More than 2.3 million or 9.7 percent of the youth suffer from severe major depression, an increase of 126,000 cases over the previous year.
When the youth are undergoing depression, this is often accompanied by disorderly behavior, anxiety, and substance abuse. If untreated in childhood, depression is likely to continue in adulthood.
Seek Medical Care and Benefits
If you or anyone in your family has mental health problems, it is important to seek professional medical care as early as possible. Early intervention and management can help prevent the condition from becoming more severe.
If finances are a problem, check with your state if you or the patient qualify for Medicaid for being mentally disabled. There are disability benefits for mental impairments that provide both a monthly income and health insurance.
Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI) are for those who previously worked and paid Social Security for five years out of the latest 10 years. Those who did not work can apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) either for children or adults but must have meager income, assets, and resources.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), most applications are denied, but you must file an appeal. Get a lawyer experienced in these claims and arrange to pay only if you win. The law limits legal fees to $6,000 or 25 percent of the SSI or SSDI payments you receive, whichever is lower.
The Social Security Administration Blue Book lists nine categories of mental disorders covered by Social Security benefits. They must significantly prevent you or the patient from functioning for work or in social situations.
The nine main disorders are affective disorders; anxiety disorders; autism and related disorders; mental retardation; organic mental disorders; personality disorders; schizophrenia, paranoia, and psychotic disorders; somatoform disorders; and substance addiction. Other disorders that merit evaluation are attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, bipolar disorder, chronic insomnia, depression, dysthymia, eating disorders, hallucinations, intellectual disability, memory loss, mood disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and social anxiety.
There are free clinics and community health centers that provide medical care for mental health. Check also with non-profit organizations and medical schools for such services. Look for support groups in your community that hold virtual meetings during the pandemic.
Seek Assistance for Medication
Medication for mental illness is expensive, but it pays for both brand name and generic prescription drugs if you have Medicare coverage. If not, and if you or the patient cannot afford mental health medicines, you can search for cost-sharing programs through the Partnership for Prescription Assistance’s Medicine Assistance Tool (MAT). It is a search engine that can connect you to patient assistance programs of the biopharmaceutical industry, where you can get medicines for free or at an exceptionally low cost.
Also, avail of FamilyWize, a prescription savings card that is a partner of MHA. You can get it for free, and it gives you discounts that can cover up to 54 percent of your mental health medication costs.
Manage Mental Health
With the appropriate medical intervention and medication, you or the patient can live with a manageable mental illness. Ensure adequate daily physical activity, exposure to fresh air and sunshine, and a healthy diet.
Avoid exposure to stressful situations and negative information, images, and language. Instead, encourage 15-to-30-minute periods of self-care distributed throughout each day, such as watching a funny show, working on a hobby, or self-pampering.
The support of family and friends is important to provide comfort, acceptance, and a feeling of belonging. Facilitate regular communication among households through video chats and phone calls. Even with mental illness, life is still worth living.