Mental Health Awareness Month Month GUEST BLOG BY Eva Terrazas, Chief Public Policy and Advocacy Officer, Pacific Clinics
Mental Health Awareness Month Month
GUEST BLOG BY Eva Terrazas, Chief Public Policy and Advocacy Officer
The U.S has observed Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949. This year's theme is Back to Basics with the goal of providing "foundational knowledge about mental health... and what people can do if their mental health is a cause for concern." As I reflected on what to write for this blog, I thought about the current unmet needs in behavioral health and what the future could look like if we harnessed the momentum to create systems change; a future that would better serve the needs of individuals and communities seeking care and break the stigma for those experiencing mental health and substance use challenges. In that vein, I chose to write on the theme of "Back to the Future."
Most, if not all of us, can agree that there has been limited and sporadic awareness and recognition of the enormous stigma and barriers to accessing mental health services. Practitioners in the field of mental health and substance use have been raising the alarms of a looming crisis for decades. Then, in 2020, COVID-19 struck, a world-wide pandemic with a ferocity so severe, it took the lives of a million individuals in the U.S. alone and compounded the effects on an individual's mental well-being, one that we are still experiencing today and will likely experience in the years ahead.
The National Council for Mental Wellbeing recently released its first comprehensive consumer survey "2022 Access to Care Survey" that revealed significant unmet mental health and substance use needs, far exceeding those of physical health care. Of note, 43%of U.S. adults said they needed mental health or substance use services over the past 12 months and either did not receive care or experienced barriers to access it. The need is even greater for men and younger adults. The survey found that younger generations (Gen Z and Millennials) are more likely than Gen X'ers and Boomers to openly admit they need mental health and substance use care. The 2021 Surgeon General report Protecting Youth Mental Health was a call to action to tackle the widespread recognition of youth experiencing mental health challenges, particularly BIPOC youth. According to the report, in 2019, one in three high school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, up 40% from2009. Additionally, we have an immediate workforce crisis and are in dire need of providers who reflect the communities they serve to better address the cultural and historical racial trauma of individuals seeking care.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not call out the recent spree of deadly mass shootings and the traumatizing impact on individuals in cities, towns and communities throughout the nation. When a mass shooting occurs, the media and/or elected officials, more often than not, jump to the conclusion that mental illness causes gun violence, which creates more harm by targeting and further stigmatizing those with mental health issues. Mass shootings, and the trauma and heartbreak left in their wake, are etched into our soul and consciousness and take years, if not decades, for people and communities to heal. The majority of these shootings have targeted people of color, who already face significant challenges with access to care, language barriers, health equity and social economic disparities.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we are experiencing a crisis, and it is time that cities, counties, and our nation declare the status of mental health a public health crisis. Doing so will further elevate the barriers that impact access of care, focus greater attention and resources to address the crisis, and begin to lift the stigma associated with mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia. We must continue to create the structural changes necessary to build a more accessible and equitable behavioral health system of the future so that children, youth, adults, families and communities live in safety and thrive.
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