A Serious Mental Health Crisis We Must Start Talking About

Got psychological pain? Anxiety and depression are skyrocketing in the U.S.

Posted Jan 28, 2021

Years ago, I had an idea for creating a subtle screening for suicidality. When 2020 arrived, I decided to do something about it. Subtle screening items written, I turned my attention to what I thought would be a serious challenge: the relatively small percentage of participants who would endorse items tapping suicidal ideation. You see, only about 3.9% of the population experiences suicidal thoughts in an average year. With a sample of, say, 300 folks, the most people that I would normally expect to report symptoms of suicidality would be 12; I needed more like 200. But what’s a researcher to do on a shoestring budget? Then COVID-19 happened.

Most participants were drowning in anxiety or depression.
Source: Ian/Unsplash

In October 2020, during the most recent surge in cases and deaths, I collected my data for the screening and what did I find? My sample was very psychologically distressed. A whopping 73% had a likely diagnosis of anxiety and another 80% had a likely diagnosis of depression. And suicidality? The majority reported some suicidal thoughts; ironically, I ended up with a small but sufficient number of persons who did not endorse symptoms of suicidality. Methodologically speaking, this was fantastic news, but it was an alarming indicator of the mental health crisis we have on our hands in the U.S. during a global pandemic. 

At a live forum sponsored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health yesterday, mental health professionals stated that the number of people struggling with anxiety, depression, or traumatic stress has increased from about 1 out of 5 to at least 2 out of 5 in the past 10 months. Isolation, alienation, worrying about one’s own health and that of family members and friends, and just an overwhelming feeling of dread associated with COVID-19 are permeating our lives and communities. More people we know are getting COVID-19, and more and more of us know someone who has died from it. Psychological pain associated with fear and loneliness can build up to the point where it becomes unbearable.

Dan Meyers/Unsplash
Source: Dan Meyers/Unsplash

The upshot: It’s very likely that you, or someone you know, is experiencing serious symptoms of anxiety, depression, or traumatic stress right now. It’s probably a good idea to reach out to folks you haven’t had a conversation with in a while and just check in to see how they are doing. The good news? It’s more OK than ever to talk about how crappy you’ve been feeling, because other people you know are feeling that way, too. So, please talk about it. And if you are feeling desperate and feel like you cannot go on like this, but don't feel comfortable reaching out to someone you know, you may speak to a professional counselor at the following number: 1-800-273-8255. The bottom line is that it’s going to get better, eventually. And people want you to be here to see that with them.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.