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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 – A Battle of the Brain for nearly 75 Years

The intense impact of negative mental health on America resulting from the COVID 19 virus would have one believe that the depression, anxiety, and suicidal inclinations caused by the overwhelming stress, anxiousness, loneliness, and widespread death and deadly symptoms of the pandemic are a contemporary phenomenon.

However, in its seventy-fourth year as a national observance, Mental Health Awareness Month was established by proclamation in 1949 by the United States Congress responding to increasing numbers of military veterans suffering mental illnesses upon returning from World War II, what today would be described as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD.    

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 90% of U.S. adults believe our country is currently facing a collective mental health crisis. Indeed, the 24/7, unrelenting stressors Americans endure, personal and societal, disease, political turmoil, wars, terrorism, gun violence, domestic violence, crime victimization, housing instability, food instability, economic turbulence, global warming, environmental catastrophes, health challenges, and interpersonal relationship issues, clearly diminish the average person’s quality of life and optimism.

These same categories of stress and life challenges are even more devastating to children and youth in their formative years. Referred to as Acute Childhood Experiences, ACEs, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the CDC, has determined that this condition will have a debilitating impact on children’s future violence victimization and perpetration, have lifelong negative health consequences, and reduce opportunities for personal advancement.

The effects of the COVID 19 pandemic on already overly stressed Americans’ mental health cannot be exaggerated. Since the onset of the pandemic until now, many adults have presented prominent symptoms of anxiety and depression, with 40% of adults newly reporting these symptoms in 2021.

A by-product of increased mental illness in recent years has also precipitated drastic drug overdose deaths – mainly resulting from fentanyl.  Besides accidental drug abuse deaths, suicide deaths have also risen, affecting communities of color and youth disproportionately.

Statistics reveal that approximately one-in-four African Americans seek mental health treatment, compared to two-in-four Caucasians. Disparities in health care access is a major contributor to this finding. One-in-ten Black people in the U.S. have no health insurance, compared to one-in-twenty non-Hispanic white people. 

Mental Health America reports that one-in-five adults currently experience mental illness, nearly 50 million Americans. Their research finds that roughly one-in-twenty Americans experience severe mental illness.

Among African American young people between 2015 and 2018, major depressive episodes increased from 9%-10.3 % in the 12-17 age range; from 6.1 % to 9.4 % in young adults 18-25; and 5.7% to 6.3% among the 26–49-year-old age range.

Between genders, women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with major depression than are men, based on findings reported by Johns Hopkins, with major depression usually developing at an average age in the mid-20s. The World Health Organization has found that depression is 50% more prevalent among women than men.

With the rise of youth suicide and reported increases in mental health crises, Maryland’s newly elected governor, Wes Moore, has made access to care and treatment of psychological health a priority. The governor promised to prioritize the mental health of Maryland students to ensure their academic success at a media event hosted by Behavioral Health System in Baltimore in January. The discussion included U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and was attended by local and national youth mental health experts.

The following statistics are a contemporary snapshot of mental health in Baltimore City provided by the Public Behavioral Health System for Baltimore, fiscal year 2018, servicing substance abuse and mental health for low-income individuals and families and people who are uninsured. PBHS serves over 75,000 people annually on a budget of over $585 million.

*In Baltimore, 42% of adults have experienced three or more ACEs, compared to 24% statewide.

*Extreme poverty and racism are drivers of ACEs. In Baltimore 24% of people live below the poverty line compared to 9.9% of people statewide

*ACEs increase the risk of suicide attempts by two- to five-fold

*Each ACE increases the likelihood of early initiation into illicit drug use by two- to four-fold

*Since 2013 overdoses in Baltimore more than doubled, driven by opioids. 

*In Baltimore City in 2017 there were 888 overdose deaths; 758 involved fentanyl. 

*According to the CDC, suicide rates have increased 30% since 1999.

*Rates of youth suicide are significantly higher in Baltimore than the rest of the state. 

*31.9% of Baltimore high school students feel sad or hopeless

*19.2% of city students have seriously considered suicide

*16% have made a plan about how they would attempt suicide

If the circumstances that contribute to mental health crises among children were not already too much, consider the terror young Americans face with the constant specter of mass shootings.

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