On May 31st, another “Mental Health Awareness” month will come to a close. Being in the field of substance use disorder, I think it’s important that we raise the level of awareness to the problematic societal effects of the mental health crisis. It is important that we have an understanding of the negative impact mental health disorders, including Substance Use Disorder, continue to have on individuals, families and society.
COVID has increased mental health disorders. In an article in Psychology Today, it indicated that there was an eighteen percent, (18%) increase in illicit drug overdose deaths through June 2020 compared to the first six months of 2019. COVID was listed as the general cause but the specific reasons given for this increase are the exact reasons many mental health disorders have always been problematic.
Every credible source indicated mental health disorders increased due to anxiety, fear of economic insecurity, being isolated, getting sick, losing life, fear of losing loved ones’, and idle time. Most articles specified anxiety and depression as the two key problems due to COVID. We could identify with the cause, but the reality is that a large percent of our population have lived with many of these disorders long before COVID. Hopefully, this will help us understand that Substance Use Disorder has always had underlying issues. When all of society is going through difficult times resulting in emotional upset, we relate to a common denominator. COVID was identified as our Albatross.
We all went through grief. We lost a lifestyle and more. We were anxious, somewhat isolated, fearful, and depressed. But the Albatross carried by so many prior to COVID is invisible to us. They’ve had similar symptoms as we without COVID. Can this help us be more understanding of their pain regardless of cause?
Mental Health Awareness is important. But how many years do we ‘address’ problematic behaviors by talking about the size of the problem. Until we focus on solutions, problems only grow. Lip service solves nothing without positive action.
We need conscientious efforts to provide more services. Prisons have become our largest treatment center and statistically have failed miserably in that role. In fact, it often perpetuates the problem. Beyond a political change in priorities and ideology, what can we do?
If we know anxiety and depression for any reason is problematic, lift someone up. Be a helping hand in their times of struggle. Reassure them that there is always hope. If isolation is problematic be more inclusive. Be tolerant of differences. Reach out to those who feel alone. To gather the strength within our own struggles, be a positive influence on others, listen to music, enjoy a nature walk, star gaze, laugh, engage with people from whom we can listen and learn, have compassion and be a voice and example of calm rather than divisiveness.
Most importantly, never forget that we are all connected by one great universe that is so powerful that we remain open to the energy available outside of ourselves. I can’t sit around a camp fire on a riverbank with people I care about, look at the star-filled sky without the feeling of being a small part of this indescribable universe. I feel connected to something bigger than I. Universally, we feel small and humble. But to the people we come into contact with and those we love and care about, we are huge; as they are to us; Hence, a part of our purpose here.