More than two years of living through a pandemic have taken a huge a toll on the mental health of millions of Americans, both young and old. This month, as we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month (Mental Health Matters Month in San Diego County), it’s more important than ever to shine the spotlight on a growing challenge that has been seriously exacerbated by the pandemic.
Consider some dire statistics:
- Anxiety and depression among adults nearly quadrupled from mid-2019 to January 2021. More than 41% of American adults reported symptoms associated with anxiety and/or depressive disorders. And new or increased substance use to manage stress due to COVID-19 has been reported among 13% of American adults.
- California saw drug overdose deaths rise by more than 50% between 2020 and 2021.
- Locally, one hospital has reported that it is now seeing the number of emergency psychiatric cases per day that it typically saw coming through the emergency department (ED) in a month.
Many in the health care profession, too, are feeling the effects, with front-line workers experiencing high rates of burnout and increased anxiety; 78% of psychiatrists surveyed self-reported burnout and 16% had symptoms of major depressive disorder. Indeed, many health care workers have been left with “moral injury.” In a recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers reported that the levels of mental health distress felt by doctors, nurses, first responders, and other health care personnel early in the pandemic were comparable to what’s seen in soldiers who served in combat zones.
The caregivers at your hospitals know all too well the obstacles people with behavioral health conditions face and the challenges in getting them the treatment they need. It was difficult before the pandemic, and the situation is not getting any better. The demand for behavioral health care has increased, just as the number of providers has decreased, and the challenges in delivering care have never been more complex. To support these efforts, the Department of Health Care Access and Information has announced new scholarship and loan repayment opportunities to support behavioral health profession students and providers, and will host an informational webinar on May 10 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. to highlight these upcoming opportunities.
Now is the time to replenish this vital pipeline — California is on a five-year trajectory toward a substantially inadequate behavioral health workforce. Expanding and retaining California’s behavioral health workforce must be a priority if we hope to meet the state’s growing need for mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
And every day, you see first-hand the cost of delayed access to behavioral health care treatment, which is why CHA is continuing to advocate for additional positions and expenditure authority to address timeliness standards for mental health and substance use disorder follow-up appointments.
Your hospitals already play an integral role in the behavioral health care system and helping patients find the help they need, but here are several resources to assist in raising awareness this month:
- County of San Diego events and resources
- Imperial County behavioral health services web page
- National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) national events and resources
- NAMI San Diego & Imperial Counties web page
HASD&IC continues to advocate for additional resources including stepdown beds, long-term care beds, increased reimbursement rates, enhanced case management, and the build-out of the continuum of care as we have seen the burden on hospitals through soaring administrative days reaching continued highs and EDs seeing increased volumes of behavioral health patients.