As a doctor working in the emergency department, I witness a lot of tragedy and trauma on a daily basis. These days, I seem to experience increasingly more mental health crises and it makes me wonder “are we in a mental health epidemic?”
Without a doubt, the world as we once knew it has drastically changed. And, it’s safe to say it’s impacting the health of our mental and emotional well-being. The combination of a “new normal” and attempting to get “back-to-normal” seems to have taken a toll on many of us. It’s a confusing and overwhelming time. No wonder our mental health is suffering.
What is Mental Illness?
Mental illness, or mental health disorders, affect your mood, thoughts, and behavior. Common examples of mental illness include anxiety, depression, personality disorders, etc. There are many common symptoms of mental illness to pay attention to, such as:
- Excessive fear and anxiety
- Extreme mood changes
- Withdrawal from people and activities
- Addiction to substances, like alcohol and drugs
- Excessive anger
- Suicidal thoughts
- Excessive lack of motivation
If you notice these sudden symptoms in yourself or a loved one, it’s important to not dismiss or ignore. Mental illness is a serious condition and should be treated as such.
Why is Mental Illness on the Rise?
While there are many causes of mental illness, including chemical imbalances and trauma, the recent changes to our environment and circumstances are certainly strong factors right now. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that mental illness is on the rise, as we’re overcoming the trauma and stress of a 2+ year pandemic.
Over the last several years, we, as a society, have experienced changes in social interaction, dating, and relationships. We have been impacted by virtual education and occupation, across the board. Our fears and anxieties have shot through the roof with thoughts of what’s to come and the unknown. And as a result, we’re seeing an increase in self-isolation, substance abuse, learning delays, suicidal ideation, and so much more.
Mental illness is on the rise, but we don’t have to sit back and watch it get worse. There are effective ways to improve our mental health and support our loved ones.
What You Can Do to Support Mental Health
So, what can you do to support your mental health and that of those around you? First and foremost, it’s important to recognize the symptoms and signs of mental illness. Pay close attention to your loved ones and don’t dismiss small changes in behavior and emotion. In addition, follow these tips:
- Assume everyone is struggling. Be kind to everyone you interact with. You never know what someone is dealing with behind-the-scenes.
- Call a friend when you’re in need. If you feel your emotions and/or behavior spiraling, call a trusted friend or family member to confide in. Talking it out is often very helpful. For additional help, seek a professional. I recommend this for anyone and everyone. My own mental health came into question for me a year and a half after the pandemic started. All of a sudden, boom, I noticed what the past couple of years had done. I personally noticed less energy and joy in things I would normally enjoy, and a sense of apathy. I have always seen a therapist on and off, but once I noticed these feelings in myself, I went straight back and have been ever since!
- Ask questions. If you know someone who is having a hard time, ask them questions. Dig deeper. And, when necessary, seek professional help.
- Take care of your physical health. Eating a whole food diet, spending time outdoors in the sunshine, drinking adequate amounts of water, and sleeping 8+ hours per night can work wonders for your mental health.
Mental health is an epidemic today.