Q. People are concerned about the isolation and negative psychological impact that the separation of family members is causing. Residents are seeing a higher number of family members suffering and a resulting high rate of suicide cases. What are the findings and what is being done about this in our communities?
A. The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed from January through September 2020, according to Mental Health America. During that period, more than 1.5 million people took a mental health screening available on mhanational.org. The number of people reporting moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety has increased throughout 2020 and remains higher than rates before the pandemic. Of the people taking the MHA screenings, there was a 93 percent increase in anxiety screenings, and a 62 percent increase in depression screenings, compared to 2019, MHA said.
The organization also says more people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded in the MHA screening program since its launch in 2014. Since the pandemic began in March, over 178,000 people have reported frequent suicidal ideation, with 37 percent of people reporting having thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day in September 2020.
Young people are struggling most with their mental health, according to MHA. The proportion of youth ages 11-17 who accessed screening was 9 percent higher than the average in 2019. Throughout the pandemic, youth ages 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Rates of suicidal ideation are highest among youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth, according to MHA. In September 2020, over half of 11- to 17-year-olds reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than half or nearly every day of the previous two weeks.
While rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are increasing for people of all races and ethnicities, Blacks have had the highest average percent change over time for anxiety and depression, according to MHA, while Native Americans or American Indians have had the highest average percent change over time for suicidal ideation.
People identified as at risk for mental health conditions are struggling most with loneliness or isolation. From April to September 2020, among people who said they had moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, 70 percent reported that one of the top three things contributing to their mental health concerns was loneliness or isolation.
Dr. Christopher Pittenger, a psychiatrist and director of the Yale OCD Research Clinic at the Connecticut Mental Health Center, suggests people try to find ways to maintain a sense of normalcy while also understanding that things likely won’t completely return to normal for months. Technology is useful in that regard, he said.
Staying in contact through a phone, computer or other means “is important because it maintains some degree of normalcy,” he said. “Some things are disrupted, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be disrupted.”
Connecticut has a mental health portal through which a number of services can be accessed, including support for young adults, a parent stress line, a veterans’ line, a teen talk line, support for LGBTQ+ people, and those who speak Spanish or another language. You can also call 211 for information.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness of Connecticut, or NAMICT, is hosting a number of online support groups and education programs. There are currently 10 family support groups, 11 peer support groups, two veterans’ support groups, and six young adult groups. All groups are led by trained facilitators with experience with mental health issues.