By Dr. Frank L. Urbano, MBA, FACP
Over the past year, many of us have undoubtedly felt stressed about how COVID-19 has affected our lives. Whether it be the restricted ability to interact with others, the uncertainty of the future, or general fear surrounding the virus, the impacts have been vast, leaving many individuals feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis.
A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in August 2020 reported 40 percent of adults said they have at least one “adverse mental or behavioral health condition.” The data was based on a sample taken in June of 2020. Nearly a year has passed and while things are improving, we are not yet back to normalcy, which means that number is likely higher today.
More common than you think
It’s completely normal to feel anxious from time to time, but for many individuals it is a weight they carry with them daily even before the pandemic. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older. While anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only about 40% of those suffering receive treatment.” In 2020, a nationwide poll revealed that “American adults 65 and older will not seek treatment for concerns about depression and one third of them believe they can ‘snap out of it’ on their own.”
When a person experiences a physical ailment, the natural step is to call their doctor though if they experience feelings of depression or anxiety, they are more likely to keep it to themselves. In fact, the average delay between symptom onset and treatment for mental health care is 11 years according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s unimaginable for someone to wait more than a decade to be evaluated for joint pain or some other physical discomfort. Mental health should be treated as an equal priority, especially since 50 percent of all mental illness begins by age 14.
Where to begin
If you are having feelings of anxiety or depression there are people and resources available to help. Taking the first step may be the most difficult, but your journey of healing will be well worth it.
- Seek help. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, call your doctor. He or she can assess your symptoms and help guide you on the best path for treatment. This could include speaking with a mental health professional, taking medication, or a combination of the two.
- Share your experience. It can be difficult to verbalize feelings of anxiety and depression, but talking to others is an important step in the healing process. You may be surprised to learn that others in your circle have experienced some of the same feelings and can offer support to help you cope. You may also encourage someone else to seek help.
- Practice mindfulness. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel stress, anxiety or panic setting in, listen to your body and transition to an activity that helps you feel calm. Consider journaling, reading, exercising, meditating, and even listening to music to help reduce stress.
- Prioritize routine care. Keeping up with well-visits, routine screenings and vaccinations are all important to maintaining your overall health. It also helps you maintain an open dialogue with your primary care physician who can help coordinate any care you may need, whether for your physical or mental health.
Lastly, and most importantly, remember you are not alone. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. There is an abundance of resources available to treat mental illness, but the first step is acknowledging you need help.
Making your emotional well-being a priority is a gift to yourself, and one that you won’t regret.
Dr. Frank L. Urbano, MBA, FACP is senior medical director for AmeriHealth New Jersey.