This month and next month’s columns will tackle the serious topics of mental health, substance abuse and addiction.
Mental health and substance abuse, alone or combined, have a devastating effect on society, but especially on young adults and their families.
According to medlineplus.gov, mental health encompasses our “emotional, psychological, and social well-being.” It affects how we think, feel and act as we cope with life’s challenges. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make decisions. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood and aging. Mental health is important because we need to:
• Cope with the stresses of life
• Maintain good relationships
• Make meaningful
contributions to society
• Be productive
• Realize our full potential
According to current statistics, the COVID-19 Pandemic has caused a marked increase in mental health cases. A report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that the pandemic had a negative impact on youth behavior and mental health. Social isolation, disrupted routines, and concerns about the health and safety of loved ones, has impacted the emotional and behavioral health of children and young adults, according to the report.
A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that ED visits are increasing among children ages 5 to 19 seeking help for suicidal thoughts between January 2016 and June 2021. Although the research was conducted in Illinois, experts believe it is a national trend.
Dr. Stacy Eagle, Director of Psychiatry at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, agreed. “We are seeing an uptick in ED visits among children and young adults,” said Dr. Eagle. “We are also concerned about the potential need for a higher level of care, as there is a shortage of in-patient psychiatric beds in Suffolk County.”
According to a recent Surgeon General’s report, research also cites the growing dependence on social media, increasing academic pressures, and limited access to mental health care as factors for the increase in statistics. Other stressors mentioned among young people include rising income inequality, racism, gun violence, and climate change.
Recent studies state that nearly one in four parents of children ages 5 to 12 reported their kids were experiencing worsening emotional health. One in four youth aged 13 to 19 reported losing sleep because of feeling unhappy or depressed, feeling constantly under strain, or experiencing a loss of confidence in themselves during the Pandemic.
Dr. Eagle stated that anxiety and depression are the most common conditions seen, with social isolation and the widespread use of social media during the pandemic as major contributing factors.
The quality of mental health in a child affects how well they handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Therefore, it is safe to say we are dealing with a real time public health crisis regarding the challenges of managing mental health, especially in children and young adults. In June, the Biden administration called the recent rise in rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among kids an “unprecedented mental health crisis.”
The most common mental health disorders for children are attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and behavioral disorders.
Nationwide this past summer, 32% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, nearly triple the rate in 2019, according to the CDC.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mental disorders can contribute to substance abuse. About 4% of kids ages 12 to 17 reported having a substance use disorder in the past year, according to CDC data collected from 2018-2019. Mental health and substance abuse are two issues that often intersect with each other.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), suicide was the second leading cause of death among American Indian and Native Alaska youth ages 8 to 24 in 2019. LGBTQ youth also have a higher rate of suicidal ideation in comparison to their heterosexual peers.
The report found that kids from lower income households, single-parent families, and black households, as well as young children with disabilities, experienced the largest increases in emotional or behavior problems, including depression.
According to an article published in Newsday on October 18, a study by Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside found that many Long Islanders have found it challenging to access mental health care professionals. This is true even for people with insurance, according to the poll.
Experts confirm the need for mental health services has grown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 36 % of Long Islanders said they or an adult family member faced challenges accessing MH care, such as an inability to get an appointment.
According to Dr. Eagle, the need for increasing the number of psychiatric in-patient beds and programs needs to be addressed. Brunswick Hospital in Amityville, which specializes in mental health and substance abuse, recently closed its adolescent unit for mental health. It continues to serve adults for in-patient admissions.
Holiday Season Can Be A Difficult Time
The holidays can be a particularly trying time for people susceptible to stress. According to the Mental Health Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, November and December are two of the most stressful months. Statistics further show that the most common emotions people feel during the holiday season are fatigue, stress, sadness and irritability.
Studies also show women feel more stressed than men, and their triggers include pressure to give gifts, financial strain, time constraints and weight gain. It appears the waning COVID pandemic has not mitigated how the holidays continue to impact our emotional health. This is likely related to the severe human toll exacted by the pandemic, including those who were lost due to the virus and those suffering long term effects.
Some Good News
Factors that can have a positive impact on mental health in children include access to green space, a healthy diet, reliable housing and access to quality healthcare. Healthy relationships with parents, caregivers, teachers and friends can also shape a child’s mental well-being.
When managing ADHD, certain lifestyle changes can be helpful, sayid clinical nutritionist Josephine Tutrani. This can include:
• Changing the environment to reduce electronic distractions, noise, and clutter
• Playing brain games such as crosswords, Sudoku, Brain Gym, etc.
• Engaging in exercises that can boost your mood, such as dance, aerobics, swimming, martial arts or yoga and spending more time outdoors and in natural settings
Additional Dietary Tips and Caveats Include:
• Avoid exposure to commercial chemicals in paint, household cleaning products and lawn applications
• Reduce sugar; eliminate high fructose corn syrup, food additives and GMO ingredients
• Eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, like spinach and polyphenol-rich fruits such as berries and apples
• Avoid trigger foods such as gluten, dairy and soy
How We Can Improve Our Mental Health Proactively
There are many different things we can do to improve our mental health, including:
• Stay positive – Try to have a positive outlook and keep negative emotions in check
• Practice gratitude – Be thankful for the good things in your life by thinking about what you are grateful for
• Take care of yourself – Your physical and mental health are connected. Some ways to take care of your physical health include being physically active, getting enough sleep, and eating a balanced diet based on good nutrition
• Connect with others – Humans are social creatures, and it’s important to have strong, healthy relationships with others
• Develop a sense of meaning and purpose in life. This could be through your job, volunteering, learning new skills, or exploring your spirituality
• Avoid feeling rushed by planning ahead using daily planners, to-do lists or professional organizers, rather than acting impulsively or recklessly, which eats up time
• Develop coping skills – To deal with stress, consider imagery, yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or prayer
There are some positive signs for addressing the increased demand and access to MH services on Long Island. The Youth Enrichment Service (YES), that’s mission is to “serve and empower youth and their families,” is set to open a new state-of-the-art Mental Health Clinic in Brentwood. According to Clinical Director Maria Olsen, the new clinic will serve approximately 250 children and young adults, ages 5-21.
“The new clinic will supplement our existing clinic in Islip, which currently serves 90 young adults,” said Olsen. Anyone seeking help can call YES at (631) 446-1950. Many of the staff are bilingual.
Serving the east end of Long Island, RISE is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1980 and has grown to support services for the developmentally disabled, mentally ill and dual diagnosed adults. RISE offers case management, mental health rehabilitation, respite, social opportunities, medical referrals and employment. They can be contacted at (631) 727-6220.
Most mental health professionals are now available via “tele-health,” Zoom or by phone, making access much more convenient for those seeking counseling.