The pandemic has caused extreme stress among the population. This has led to mental health issues and unwanted weight gain among many. The Stress in America 2020 report of the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that 46 percent of Gen Z adults stated that their mental health declined during the pandemic. This was followed by 33 percent of Gen X, 31 percent of millennials, 28 percent of boomers, and nine percent of the elderly.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), nearly 1.6 million Americans took mental health screens and sought resources and support on the MHA Online Screening Program from January to September 2020. The number of people who took anxiety screening increased by 93 percent over 2019, and the number of people who took depression screening increased by 62 percent.
By September 2020, more than 80 percent of people who took the anxiety screening had results showing moderate to severe anxiety. The same occurred in people taking the depression screening. The number of people thinking about self-harm is the highest since the launch of the MHA Screening program in 2014.
According to the APA, 42 percent of American adults gained excess weight. The average weight gain was 29 pounds, and the median was 15 pounds. Ten percent had a weight gain of over 50 pounds. This must be addressed because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that excess weight heightens the risk of serious illness if infected by Covid 19. Also, excess weight of over 11 pounds increases the risk of having diabetes and heart disease, while the excess weight of over 24 pounds increases the risk for stroke.
The Behavioral Health Field
The CDC states that 40 percent of Americans with a year’s history of severe mental health problems were not receiving treatment even before the pandemic. These mental disorders include general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, specific phobia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder type I or II, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance use disorders. The percentage of people whose mental health care needs were unmet increased during the pandemic.
The field of behavioral health can address both issues of mental health and behaviors that lead to excessive weight gain that, in turn, leads to chronic disease. Service providers for behavioral health include psychiatrists, physicians, neurologists, counselors, and social workers.
Problems of Accessibility and Cost of Psychiatric Services
Most people with mental health disorders rely on psychiatrists for help. There is, however, a massive shortage of psychiatrists in the U.S. The country needs more psychiatrists because there are none in 60 percent of all counties. The distribution of psychiatrists among the population is also uneven. In New York, there are 612 for every 100,000 people, while in Idaho, there is just one for every 100,000 people. Also, 60 percent of currently practicing psychiatrists are more than 55 years old and retiring in a few years.
Apart from the difficulty in finding a psychiatrist and the long waiting period to get an appointment if you find one, the cost of psychiatric care is also too high for many. According to CNBC, a therapy session that lasts an hour can cost between $65 to $250 without insurance.
Many behavioral health service providers are not covered by medical insurance. Among psychiatrists, only 56 percent are covered by commercial insurance because insurers pay them a lower rate than other medical practitioners. It is difficult for them to claim payments from insurance companies; hence, many seek the services of behavioral-health billing professionals.
Public health insurance is not any better. Medicare covers the services of only an estimated 23 percent of all psychiatrists across the country. It also limits inpatient psychiatric care to 190 days per patient for life. That is just a little more than six months of inpatient care which does not suffice for those with long-term severe mental health problems. Because of all these, less than 10 percent of people with mental health problems receive effective treatments.
Other Options to Explore
If there are no psychiatrists within reach, or their services are not affordable, the next best thing is to turn to other professionals who may have some mental health training. These include neurologists and other physicians, as well as counselors and social workers.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has a free helpline that can be reached at 1-800-950-6264 on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. eastern time. They also have a free crisis text service by sending the text NAMI to 741-741.
Go to the nearest hospital emergency room for emergencies, such as a strong urge for self-harm or a severe panic attack. The important thing is not to lose hope and to reach out for help. There are always people willing to give support.