The last two years of the pandemic have been daunting for everyone. After multiple nationwide lockdowns resulting from different variants of COVID-19, the isolation and fear of the unknown has created mental health challenges for many of us.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports nearly one in five adults has a mental illness. Despite how common mental health conditions are, it is hard for people to identify them most of the time. (Schueler, 2021)
Mental Health Awareness Month began in 1949. Hospitals, health care providers, and medical associations create awareness around mental health to help reduce the stigmas attached to mental illness. Awareness encourages patients to share their personal stories and provide relevant information on treatment, support, and resources.
Similarly, the American Hospital Association supports integrating behavioral and physical health treatment. Awareness among hospital workers, doctors, and nurses aids hospitals in establishing partnerships with awareness organizations that ensure access to a full continuum of behavioral health care. (AHA, 2022)
COVID-19 and Increase in Mental Health Cases
The unique stress caused by the social isolation resulting from the pandemic led to a massive increase in mental health cases across America.
Loneliness, fear of infection and losing people, fear of death, grief after bereavement, and financial insecurity were some of the stressors causing anxiety and depression. Among health workers, exhaustion has been a significant trigger for suicidal thinking. (WHO, 2022)
An analysis in JAMA for January 2021 indicated that schizophrenia patients who contracted COVID-19 were 2.7 times more likely to die from it than COVID patients in the general population. This is just another correlation for heightened awareness for the medical community.
The increase in mental health problems and cases coincided with severe disruptions to mental health services, leaving significant gaps in care for those who need it most, including patients with severe diagnoses, including bipolar disorder, drug-resistant depression, and schizophrenia. (WHO, 2022)
Mental Illness Explained
Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior (or a combination of these). It is often associated with distress and trouble functioning in social, work, or family activities. It can take many forms – some are mild and interfere in limited ways with daily life like specific phobias, abnormal fears. In extreme cases, mental health conditions are so severe that a person requires care in a hospital. (Parekh, 2018)
It’s not uncommon to see a certain amount of lesser-known symptoms being overlooked due to stigma, lack of education on mental health, and diagnostic bias.
It’s one of the biggest reasons patients hide their genuine emotions and do not confide in anyone. But an untreated mental illness can lead to both deteriorating symptoms and harmful coping mechanisms, such as excess alcohol consumption or substance use.
Signs & Symptoms of Mental Illness
Depending on the severity or the type of mental illness, the signs and symptoms may vary. It’s essential to know more about developing symptoms or early warning signs in order to help. Early intervention and diagnosis can help reduce the severity of a particular mental illness. It is even possible to prevent a major mental illness in some cases.
Common signs and symptoms of mental illness
- Disturbed sleep patterns or changes in appetite – a noticeable difference or decline in personal care, sleep, or appetite
- Facing problems in thinking clearly – lack of concentration, memory loss, or lack of logical thought or speech that’s not easy to explain
- Rise in sensitivity – to smell, touch, sound, or sight
- Disrupted physical intimacy like a decline in sex drive
- Illogical thinking; exaggerated beliefs about some ‘special’ powers or belief in imaginary life events.
- Nervousness, suspicion, or fear of others for no reason
- Unusual behavior like hostility, excessive anger, or acts of violence
- Problems with drug or alcohol abuse
- Mood swings or depression – drastic shifts in emotions, feeling low or constant depressed feelings
- Feeling lost or disconnected – hitting a sense of delusion (unreal), paranoia, or a vague feeling of detachment from oneself, others, or surroundings
- Withdrawal symptoms – from friends, social circle and losing interest in meeting people in general
- Sudden loss of interest in performing day-to-day activities like school, work, sports, or social activities
- Suicide tendencies
Getting Help When in Crisis
Every patient dealing with mental health issues is different. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you experience one or more symptoms of mental illness, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor. It’s a combined journey of self-realization, healing, and medical treatment.
Mental illness shouldn’t be stigmatized. Early intervention and treatment can bring back quality of life for those affected. Our ER doctors and nurses are trained to recognize and treat those in crisis. Know that there is help and treatment available and having a plan is important.
Those with suicidal intent, or thoughts of harming others, need immediate medical attention. Dial 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or live chat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat for lifesaving intervention.
AHA, A. H. A. (2022). May is Mental Health Awareness Month: AHA. American Hospital Association. Retrieved March 26, 2022, from https://www.aha.org/mental-health-awareness-month
WHO, N. R. (2022, March 2). Covid-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 26, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide
Schueler, M. K. (2021, May 3). Five warning signs of mental illness that people miss. NAMI. Retrieved March 26, 2022, from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2021/Five-Warning-Signs-of-Mental-Illness-that-People-Miss
Parekh, R. (2018, August). What Is Mental Illness? What is mental illness? Retrieved March 26, 2022, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-mental-illness
APA, The American Psychiatric Association. Warning Signs of Mental Illness, 2021, www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness.