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May 26, 2021
Every year many people face the reality of living with mental illness. However, many people don’t understand the countless facets of mental health – which leads to many questions about this topic.
Apex Benefits Licensed Clinical Social Worker Andrea Hickle, provides answers to some of the most common mental health questions.
What is mental health?
Mental health is simply the state of your well-being. A common misconception is that mental health is the negative side of health. In reality, mental health is something we all have, similar to how we all have physical health. Your mental health, like physical health, lays on a spectrum and can either be good or bad depending on how you take care of it.
How do I know if I’m unwell?
If you have symptoms related to mental health that affect your daily life in a negative way, you might be mentally unwell and should get your mental health checked. You should see your primary care physician if these symptoms make it difficult for you to live a happy life.
Getting your mental health checked is a good idea when activities that used to bring you joy don’t anymore, or if you’re feelings of anxiety or depression have stopped you from doing those activities. If you have prolonged feelings of anxiousness, depression, worry, etc., for over 14 days, it’s important to talk with a healthcare professional.
How has COVID-19 affected mental health?
COVID-19 is a stressor that has reached many people, and arguably, everyone. Whether it involves overall anxiety around the unknown, or more serious circumstances such as suicide attempts and increased substance abuse, nearly everyone has been affected mentally by the pandemic.
People who weren’t affected by mental health issues before COVID-19 are now affected. When dealing with stress and anxiety in our day-to-day lives, people have coping mechanisms that keep their mental health on the healthy side of the spectrum. When the pandemic took away coping mechanisms like going to the gym, sports, social interaction, etc., we really started to see a decline in our society’s mental health. Hospitals have seen an increase in suicide attempts, child abuse and substance usage throughout the pandemic, and health professionals are still trying to close that gap.
The birth of telehealth and the concept that we can access physicians from anywhere, all the time, has improved access to care, but can be inefficient when it comes to crisis management. It’s a great resource to reach more people but shouldn’t be the only way to get access to care.
Is our state of mental health getting better?
It is getting better, however, we still have a long way to go. We will be seeing the effects of COVID-19 for years to come. The healthcare industry has learned so much during the pandemic, such as learning that a hybrid approach to healthcare is beneficial. We found a wider variety of ways to service patients and learned how to be more resourceful from the pandemic. If we continue to increase in-person appointments with patients and keep the virtual model, we’ll be able to provide care to more people — leading to a decrease in the number of people strongly affected by mental health.
How should employers address mental health?
The most important place to start: creating a work environment that removes the stigma of mental health. In professional workplaces, employees are often stigmatized if they are struggling with mental health, and may be considered not competent enough to do their job. In reality, everyone has dealt with some form of stress, anxiety, etc., and employees shouldn’t feel alone or incompetent about those issues. Employers should take preventative steps to take care of employees’ mental health.
It’s also important to prioritize and talk about Employee Assistance Program (EAP) resources openly, and allow for mental health or personal days when employees need it. Incorporating mental health dialogue within staff meetings and communications is a great way to start removing the stigma — and consider including mindfulness activities at the beginning of meetings and lunch & learns. It’s important that employers focus on mental health just as much as physical health.
We need to start making mental health a priority. Taking care of ourselves and others can make a huge impact on our environments. If you’re struggling with mental health, please take a look at these free resources.