About 1 in 5 American adults will experience a diagnosable mental health issue, according to a survey by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Over the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic isolating people across the country and world, there has been an increase in adults seeking help for anxiety, depression and other mental conditions, a screening by Mental Health America found.
“With the pandemic we really saw an increase in the number of overdose-deaths, alcohol and substance abuse problems, depression, suicide attempts, all of that has gone up,” said Mark Kline, department chair for psychology at Methodist University. “Therapists in Fayetteville and the state have noticed that there’s not enough therapists for all the people who need help.”
Since 1949, the month of May has been celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Month across the U.S. to raise awareness and educate people about different mental health illnesses. Many organizations host awareness campaigns, events and more.
Many health care professionals say mental health topics are not given the importance they should in terms of public perception and its relation to overall health.
“When the pandemic first started people were struggling with feeling isolated, they didn't have enough connections or weren't able to establish them because they couldn't go out, recreation was greatly reduced, plus additional stress with kids being home-schooled,” said Dr. Michael West, Deputy Commander for Department of Behavioral Health,
at Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg.
According to SAMHSA, only 48.2% of adults in North Carolina receive treatment for their mental health, ranking the state 33 out of 50 for providing access to mental health services.
“It’s a society wide problem, we are doing some things that are in the right direction like the mental health awareness month, on campus we do a lot of reaching out, we have different events we do for mental health awareness days, just to let people know it’s not a moral failure, there's nothing wrong with them and that it’s a normal part of human life and there is help available,” Kline said.
Stigmatization is the main hurdle keeping people from seeking help, he said.
“You really can't separate mental and physical health, they really influence each other,” Kline said. “My argument would be that mental health is just as critical a need in our community as physical health and with COVID it really kind of brought that to the forefront.”
Dr. West says for soldiers, many stressors come from managing the pace of Fort Bragg being a premier operational post, things move very fast and there's a lot of demand on the soldiers and their families.
Many have to balance the job of serving their country, demands at home and still try to have a personal life, make time for hobbies and such, he said.
“When those things get out of balance at home or work, during deployments, we think PTSD can happen, but one can also get depressed or anxious, people can develop marital or relationship problems, a whole bunch of stuff can come out with an imbalance of life,” Dr. West said.
Although there is no one single cause of mental illnesses, many factors like genetics, environmental factors, brain injuries, life experiences and more can affect one’s mental health.
“We really look at five areas — sleep, activity, nutrition, spirituality or purpose and then there’s what we say to ourselves, are we someone who accepts when we make mistakes or we beat ourselves up and get into negative self-talk because all that does is bring people down,” Dr. West said.
“Those five areas are things that are very important and getting into routines and it's horrible during the pandemic to get into them because things are open and then they are closed, you can do this or can't
See Something, Say Something
Dr. West suggests people be more observant to notice if their friends or family are acting differently.
“If a person who’s always been calm, relaxed and chill and suddenly they are now angry, irritable and stressed out, or negative in their approach, those are changes and things we have to take time to observe,” Dr. West said. “Then be willing to say something, sometimes it's to the individual and saying ‘hey, what's going on’ and being their buddy and sometimes it's talking to someone else and getting some assistance for them.”
There is a lot of pressure on the person experiencing mental health issues to seek help, but friends and family can be a helpful resource to get them help before things get hard, Kline mentioned.
“If you recognize a family member is struggling, it’s pretty easy to look up resources, just in Fayetteville, there are several mental health agencies, several practices, and a lot of resources,” he said. “And sometimes if a friend or family member can help facilitate that, let them you know ‘hey, I can sit with you when you contact them or ride with you there,’ that makes it a lot easier for people to access those resources.”
Dr. West said that people need to reach out and express worry and ask how they can help when they see someone in distress.
“Realize that we are all people, all have challenges, if not today then tomorrow or day after, we all have things that come up so asking for help or assistance is really not a big deal,” he said.
The SAMHSA treatment referral helpline 1-877-726-4727 is available Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 8 pm. EST and connects people with local resources and information on mental health. Those in immediate need can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) available 24/7.
At Methodist University’s Center for Personal Development, a fully staffed mental health provider offers free mental health services to staff, faculty and students.
Cumberland County lists local mental health organizations and providers on their website www.co.cumberland.nc.us/departments/mental-health. Their page lists a 24-hour Access and Information Line offered by Alliance and can be reached at 800-510-9132.
The Department of Behavioral Health at Fort Bragg offers a full range of mental and behavioral health care to active-duty soldiers, families and children. They offer services to manage substance abuse issues. The Intrepid Spirit Center works with those suffering from traumatic brain injuries, pain management and more.
“Many deployable units have behavioral health assets or officers, there’s military family life counselors that are here to help with very straightforward problems of life,” Dr. West said. “We also have behavioral health consultants who work with individuals with minor psychological issues, managing stress or physical conditions.”
Womack’s Behavioral Health Department serves Department of Defense members with a team of counselors on Fort Bragg.
The Peer Support Program at Fort Bragg offers support to those who have recently lost a relationship and they meet at various times and places and can be found on Facebook, Dr. West said.
The VA Suicide Crisis line is 1-800-273-8255 or one can text 838255 or live chat by visiting www.veteranscrisisline.net to get helped by qualified responders. For those looking to support near you visit www.veteranscrisisline.net.
“Just because a person comes to behavioral health does not mean they can't do their job or deploy, those are very unique cases,” he emphasized.
Military One Source offers confidential counseling to military and family members. Military One Source can be reached at 1-800-342-9647 or by visiting www.militaryonesource.mil
“The Department of Behavioral Health is a great resource; we like it when people come in early so we can help get things on track quickly rather than waiting until the problems have really deepened and become much more ingrained.” Dr. West said.
“Make sure you are doing things to take care of yourself, it’s different for different people, some it's going to the gym, for some it's spending time with family, or quiet time,” Dr. West said. “And really trying to maintain those balances of what you know helps you regain your resilience to help you to