Why Mental Health Care Is Crucial Right Now + What To Do, From A Psychiatrist
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in five people in America live with a mental illness, ranging from moderate to severe. Despite the number of confirmed illnesses, board-certified psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, M.D., says it's critical for everyone to focus on their mental health—especially right now.
During a mindbodygreen podcast episode, Ramsey says the various impacts of COVID-19 will exacerbate the existing mental health epidemic in America. In the initial phase of the virus, people were rapidly adjusting to the changes, including job transitions, loss of income, loss of structured social connection, and more.
"Those are all huge triggers for all of us, whether you have a mental health concern, mental illness, or not," he told mbg co-founder and co-CEO Jason Wachob. Because those changes occurred so rapidly, many people weren't able to fully process the mental toll they may have taken. It's important not to ignore that, Ramsey says.
So, who will these mental tolls affect?
While this pandemic will certainly affect people with pre-existing mental health conditions, Ramsey tells Wachob he's also worried about people who have never experienced anxiety, depression, a panic disorder, or other mental health disorders.
Many people with pre-existing conditions, who have sought help in the past, already have the tools to manage their mental health. "Now is really a time for us to think about people who maybe haven't had as much contact or conversation with themselves or with any professionals about their mental wellness," he says.
More recently, people have been talking about mental health online and the stigma is lowering. Ramsey calls this progression "mental health 2.0" and says COVID-19 will be a real test of how wellness and medicine can partner together for optimal health.
What tools can people utilize to take care of their mental health?
People with a history of mental illness.
If you do have a mental health condition, it's really important to use the coping skills you have and continue with your treatment program.
For those who aren't currently in a treatment program or don't have a clinician already, he recommends getting connected via telehealth or telepsychiatry. "Make sure you have care on board," he adds.
Anyone who is prescribed medication should take it regularly, as well. "This isn't a time to fiddle or experiment," he says. "This is really a time to lean into what has worked for you."
People who are struggling for the first time.
It can be hard not to doomscroll right now, but Ramsey says being disciplined about news consumption is critical for managing mental health. Turning news notifications off, going outside without your phone, and even putting a curtain over your TV can help you avoid negative external exposures.
Once you've managed the external, it's important to focus on the internal stressors that may come up. If you know you're being hard on yourself, he recommends turning that awareness into action and finding ways to be kinder and more patient.
The pandemic changed most people's daily routines, economic security, and threatened the health of many. All of these changes have the capacity to take a toll on mental health—and based on the increased rates of suicidal thoughts, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other mental health conditions in recent months, they already have. Prioritizing mental health, whether someone has struggled with it in the past or not, is critical right now.