The current state of mental health
People in the BIPOC community are facing overwhelming stress and racial trauma
Ways parents can help kids handle uncertainty and fear
Physical exercise is a catalyst for increased happiness and wellness
2020 sees people turning to drugs and alcohol in alarming numbers
Pandemic safety measures leave seniors feeling isolated
How managers can support their teams through times of uncertainty and stress
Watch The Way Forward on YouTube
From the isolation and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, to social unrest and tension amid the fight for racial equity, we are facing a mental health crisis that is expected to get worse as we approach the election and holiday season.
If you are feeling it like we are, we want you know - you are not alone. There is hope! To help us all take care of our well-being, and to help you help others who are struggling, we’ve brought mental health experts from across Washington state together to give us the knowledge, tools and resources we need.
Scroll through the chapters, watch the segments, and please let us know what you think! We'd love to hear from you to learn if you find the program valuable and to hear suggestions for any topics you'd like us to cover in subsequent programs.
Chapter one: The current state of mental health
It is not engaging in hyperbole to say 2020 has been a year full of unprecedented hardships for everyone -- both in terms of quality and quantity.
“It's been a time of incredible stressors,” said Dr. David Johnson, a member of the MultiCare Behavioral Health Foundation Board of Directors at Navos, an organization focused on serving children, young adults, and other at-risk patients.
"There's the pandemic itself, there's the fear of catching the pandemic, there are people who are suffering the aftermath from having had the virus,” he said. "There are people who have lost their jobs, people who are homeless, facing eviction, having food insecurity. People working from home and having to supervise children who are learning from home. So, it's a time of immense stress.”
Data indicate a 300 percent increase in anxiety and depression, as well as a 30 percent increase in the number of people relapsing into substance use disorders. Suicidality is also on the rise, and the mental health infrastructure is being taxed like at no other time in memory.
“I've worked in community behavioral health in King County and the Seattle area for 46 years, and this is the most challenging time I've ever witnessed,” Dr. Johnson said.
SHARE THIS SEGMENT: Feelings of anxiety and depression have reached unprecedented levels
Chapter two: People in the BIPOC community are facing overwhelming stress and racial trauma
COVID-19 has been shown to disproportionately affect minority communities in the United States, and the story is no different when it comes to mental health. Coupled with the social justice protests and unrest that has engulfed the country in parallel to the coronavirus, folks in these populations have felt the toll of immense stress these last few months.
“It's having a huge impact on the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) community,” said Ashley McGirt, author and mental health therapist. “It's taking a significant toll. For example, many people are experiencing anxiety, depression, and a lot of physiological symptoms. I'm seeing clients come in with things like headaches, migraines, inability to sleep, even high blood pressure and so much more. And these things are not new, it's just exacerbated now that we're experiencing so much racial unrest and daily protests.”
All of these stresses are piling onto what people in minority communities have always faced on a regular basis – racial trauma. For therapists, it’s been a challenge to devise treatments.
“It's very different than other types of trauma,” McGirt said. “For example, as clinicians when we treat things like PTSD [...] it's under the premise that the thing actually happened one time, whereas, with racialized trauma, it's constantly happening. So we have to be creative when we're treating it.”
Chapter three: Ways parents can help kids handle uncertainty and fear
Uncertainty due to COVID-19, wildfires, and virtual classrooms has caused stress and anxiety for many families.
“Kids and teens may have a hard time dealing with the stress,” said Hollie Gonzalez, Case Manager at Premera Blue Cross. “The things to look for would be changes in eating and sleeping.”
Children dealing with stress and anxiety may have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, as well as issues waking up on time in the morning. Younger kids may get clingy or become withdrawn. Physical signs to look for include headaches, stomach aches, excessive crying, or anger.
Gonzalez shared 5 ways parents can help their kids handle uncertainty and fear and tips for taking care of yourself so you can help others.
SHARE THIS SEGMENT: Top tips for parents to help kids cope with anxiety, uncertainty and fear
Chapter four: Physical exercise is a catalyst for increased happiness and wellness
Regular exercise can raise serotonin levels and regulate your mood. Personal trainer Stephen Hitt co-founder of Crossfit Industrious, has seen the impact first hand.
"What we see is that after we introduce the catalyst of exercise, and proper nutrition, people start to establish momentum and rhythm in their life. And then over the course of the next three to six weeks, we see a physical adaptation that comes that ultimately boosts morale, self esteem, self confidence, positive outlook ... doing work on your physical body ultimately, can be a catalyst for increased happiness and wellness."
SHARE THIS SEGMENT: How physical exercise positively affects mental health
Chapter five: 2020 sees people turning to drugs and alcohol in alarming numbers
With all the stress 2020 is piling onto the masses, people have been turning to drugs and alcohol to cope in alarming numbers – and the consequences that come from self-medicating have risen sharply as well.
Compared to a year ago, overdoses from substance abuse are up 13 percent. That’s especially troubling when you take into account the fact that 2019 was a record-setting year for overdoses. Drilling down into monthly statistics, the numbers are even more distressing.
“In March we saw at 18 percent increase over last year, and then in April we saw a 29 percent increase, and then in May a 42 percent increase,” said David Anderson, Director of Outpatient Services at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. “So you're seeing people being impacted the longer this goes on.”
Non-fatal overdoses are also on the rise, and Anderson says it’s almost certainly tied to the increased stress levels from all that is going on in the world.
Getting treatment – for yourself or someone you love – is rarely an easy step. Admission of a problem can stand in the way. However, treatment centers like Hazelden Betty Ford have decades upon decades of experience in helping people regain control of their lives.
“We really want to understand the whole person because [mental health and addiction] are intertwined and they impact each other,” Anderson said. “We want to be able to address that and we have a staff with the credentials to help people figure out what's going on and what to address. But when somebody has a substance use disorder, we need to address their stress, which is one of the main reasons people use and one of the reasons they may relapse.”
For more information on recovering from substance abuse, visit RecoveryGo.org.
SHARE THIS SEGMENT: Substance use and abuse is on the rise - how to recognize the signs
Chapter six: Pandemic safety measures leave seniors feeling isolated
Safety measures and protocols to keep seniors safe have also left many feeling isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So many people are living in retirement communities and settings where they were required to stay in their rooms away from loved ones and friends,” said Julie Stroemel, a licensed clinical psychologist at the Everett Clinic, Centers for Behavioral Health. “They are away from their familiar activities and the things that brought them joy.”
Even if seniors are able to get out, they are often distanced from other people and aren’t able to interact as they could before COVID-19. Because we are social by nature, this can have a major impact on mental health.
The Everett Clinic has seen a 40 percent uptick in calls for mental health concerns. People are often focused on negative news during this unprecedented time, and this may cause their brain to go into “default mode.”
Stroemel suggests being proactive and establishing long-term strategies that can work for months -- not just a week or two. One of those strategies is establishing a routine. It can give a sense of predictability and security, and it is something people can control each day.
Reaching out to loved ones is important, even if it a simple message. Kids and grandchildren should call to check in on their parents or grandparents. Grandparents can call grandkids to ask about their day, read stories and stay connected.
“We do better when we’re needed, and we do better when we have other people to lean on,” Stroemel said. “That connection is really key.”
To learn more about the behavioral health services offered at the Everett Clinic, visit their website.
SHARE THIS SEGMENT: Senior citizens are suffering under the weight of pandemic-related isolation
Chapter seven: How managers can support their teams through times of uncertainty and stress
Leaders across all types of companies, from large corporations to small businesses, are working to support their teams through this unprecedented time.
“Now more than ever, your team members are not okay,” said Lindsey T. H. Jackson,, artist, business strategist and owner of LTHJ global. “Most likely you as a leader are not okay either.”
Corporate leaders and small business owners, along with their team members are dealing with anxiety and depression at abnormal levels. The stress, uncertainty, and new norms of COVID-19 have had a major impact on mental health.
Because many people, especially leaders, are expected to push feelings of anxiety and depression down, they are starting to feel fatigued.
“We’re really seeing a lot of our leaders are tired,” Jackson said. “They’re tired not just physically. They’re tired emotionally.”
Additionally, women and mothers are often dealing with an extra level of responsibility. They are feeling increasingly fatigued having to balance a full-time job and roles at home, including helping with virtual school work. Having a sustained desire to try to be the best in all situations adds additional stress.
Jackson recommends three techniques for being a solid leader during these stressful times: Do more listening, create community for your team, and allow your team to be innovative.
As a colleague, you also can make an impact on your co-workers. Taking meetings offline and on the phone can allow team members to take in fresh air. Everyone can be looking for ways to create connections.
WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW: Embedded below or on YouTube
Chapter eight: Watch The Way Forward on YouTube
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