One of the tragic results of the pandemic years is the deteriorating mental health of many Americans — a vicious trend that has spared no one.
Young people have been particularly hard-hit. Approximately 20% of Americans aged 12-18 have a diagnosable mental health disorder. The percentage of adults, meanwhile, who report symptoms associated with generalized anxiety or major depressive disorders remained startlingly high throughout the pandemic — between 31-40% of adults, per the CDC’s Household Pulse Survey.
Anxiety and depression left untreated can often lead to worsening conditions such as passive suicidal ideation (SI), where people think about ending their life, to active SI, a stage that adds concrete planning to the thoughts. Suicide occurs about once every eleven minutes in the U.S., taking the lives of 45,000 people each year. In 2020, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14, and the third-leading cause for teens ages 15 to 19.
Underprepared to respond
Despite the size and urgency of the crisis, access to psychiatric care remains difficult. According to the Washington Post, this has been a problem long before the pandemic but post-pandemic after “unrelenting stress, turmoil and grief” people are seeking out mental health treatment at alarming rates amid a nationwide staffing shortage.
“When the American Psychological Association surveyed its members last fall, it found a surge in demand and new referrals, particularly for anxiety, depressive and trauma-related disorders. Yet 65 percent of the more than 1,100 psychologists who responded said they had no capacity for new patients and 68 percent said their wait lists were longer than they were in 2020.”
Programs have been designed to recruit scholars into the mental health profession, but the healthcare industry has continued to struggle with finding and retaining staff. During the entirety of the pandemic there have been countless reports of hospital and nursing home staff shortages, primarily nurses, and the same can be said for licensed mental health counselors.
The U.S. will need to adopt an all-of-the-above approach and refocus our healthcare infrastructure — public policy, research, therapies, and treatments — on solving these challenging mental health issues that continually plague our youth and our society.
Placing an emphasis on mental health education as well as making resources available for kids and adults in the coming years will be critical. Selena Gomez, the highly respected singer, actress, mental health advocate, and businesswoman just launched Wondermind, a media ecosystem for mental health. Gomez has spoken openly over the years about her bipolar diagnosis and created this platform to ensure anyone struggling could find not only resources but a community. Innovative solutions like this will be essential for reversing the long-term damage COVID-19 has had on society’s overall mental health.
At the family level, small steps can have an outsized impact. Things like exercise, engaging social networks, doing relaxing activities like puzzles or reading, and meditation can be effective solutions for coping with stress and anxiety for both parents and their children. Parents can also help their children directly by encouraging honesty, inviting them to share what’s bothering them, and doing fun activities together.
Therapy and treatment
When battling complex mental health challenges, outside help and therapy are crucial. NRx is committed to the field and understands the importance of an all-of-the-above approach and aims to be a part of the solution by enhancing therapeutics for those with mental health disorders.
NRx is working on the development of NRX-101 to treat suicidal bipolar depression. Today, no medicine is approved to treat bipolar depression in patients with acute suicidal ideation and behavior (ASIB), for which patients are hospitalized, or with sub-acute suicidal ideation and behavior, not requiring hospitalization. The only FDA-approved treatment for this potentially lethal condition is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). With approximately 50% of patients with bipolar disorder attempting suicide and 11%-20% succumbing to it, new treatments are urgently needed.
Rates of mental health disorders were worsening prior to COVID-19 and often didn’t get the national attention or funding needed to address the trend. The pandemic, of course, has only worsened the mental health burden for those who were already susceptible. While the focus now remains on mental health awareness, it is critical that we draw from the research and innovative practices developed during the pandemic to further the therapies and treatments available for those afflicted.
Robert Besthof, M.I.M.
Interim CEO, Head of Operations & Chief Commercial Officer