Mental Health Could be the Next Global Pandemic

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The stress and tension of modern life can intensify the condition of those already dealing with anxiety and depression. In addition, there are increasing pressures of staying connected on social media and photoshopping. The Covid-19 quarantine mandates have added strain to those who have lost employment or caused many to work from home and traditional for-go human workplace interaction. Regardless of how you look at it, we are being driven to stay online longer–isolated–attempting to keep up with how we perceive others to be living their lives from behind a screen. 

A survey issued between June 24-30, 2020 from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) discovered that US adults expressed “considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.” (1) The ubiquity of depression and anxiety symptoms greatly outweigh the results of 2019. Using evidence-based screening instruments, the CDC survey determined that, 40.9% of 5470 respondents disclosed a mental or behavioral health condition, in conjunction with symptoms of depressive disorders, new or increased substance use, thoughts of suicide, trauma-related symptoms or anxiety disorders. Those with pre-existing, clinically diagnosed, psychiatric disorders revealed a greater increase in symptoms, compared with those without an established diagnosis. In 2018, a national US study reported nearly 1 in 3 Americans stress about what others would think if they disclosed a mental health struggle and 21% of the population has lied about their mental state to avoid telling friends or family they were seeking mental health services.

On a global scale, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people from all lines of work and social status (2). The mental illness is already a dominant contributor to the global burden of disease with numbers steadily on the rise prior to 2020. However, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic quarantine mandates, isolation and feelings of loneliness, in correlation with a lack of accessibility to care have skyrocketed the rate of those who are reporting symptoms of depression. When left untreated or when severely of symptoms increases, depression can lead to suicide, which claims nearly 800,000 lives every year (4). In short, one person dies of suicide every 40 seconds.

So, are we in a global mental health epidemic? If you’re not already familiar with the terms, an epidemic refers to an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease aloft of what is typically wonted in a population in that area. A pandemic refers to a disease epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents. The decisive caption in both definitions is the word disease. Self-reported symptoms obtained from screening surveys do not establish the presence of a psychiatric disease, illness, or disorder. In addition, the lack of access to treatment worldwide prevents people who are experiencing new or increased symptoms of anxiety or depression, the ability to have clinical diagnosis and proper treatment for a psychiatric disorder.

For example, in Australia, around 15,000 Australians travel overseas for healthcare services every year; this is a common practice called Medical Tourism. This is due to a lack of accessibility to local mental health services where patients seeking residential care for mental health conditions are often waitlisted for two months before accessing a mental and behavioral health or Substance Use Disorder (SUD) treatment. Lima Jevremovic, founder a tech-based mental health startup focused on digitizing clinical tools and scaling access to care, responded to this issue saying “When someone who has been struggling with an addiction, eating disorder or severe mental illness finally makes the decision to stop self-medicating and suppressing their mental illness, but instead work on managing the condition with professional help, it is imperative that they are able to access treatment within a 24 hour period before they change their mind. That’s why in cases like Australia, you see a lot of the population going to countries like Thailand for residential treatment of mental health and SUDs due to the decreased cost of care and increased accessibility for cash payers.” 

In addition to the mental health and addiction services accessibility, Jevremovic also warns of the consequences of seeking treatment internationally, “Medical Tourism can put you at risk in many ways, but specific to mental health, the issues of continued care and lack of follow-up are pressing. Recovery is a life-long journey and maintaining that support is a critical part of reducing relapse rates.”  The technology Jevremovic and her team at AURA have designed is directed at reducing relapse by providing therapists with tools and technology to help guide therapeutic sessions and use a telehealth model that does more than just connect patients with clinicians via video call. She says, “Treatment has to work the first time around and that’s my mission with AURA. When a patient is seeking help for an invisible problem, it is absolutely vital the clinician is able to identify the issue correctly and help guide the process of making them feel better and able to manage their condition.”

AURA has plans on expanding to the Australian market by year end. Jevremovic says, “In Australia, relapse is an expected part of the recovery process. On average it takes 9 attempts to achieve sustained recovery from drug dependence, and even then, people need to be vigilant to avoid relapse. In the US these rates are much higher depending on the drug of choice. When a patient is unable to control their relapses on a regular basis due to lack of support, it validates their belief that they are incapable and forms new behavior patterns where they have trouble breaking free of the cycle. It can drastically amplify the issue.”

As cases of depression, anxiety and suicide continue to increase, an open dialogue is the first step in addressing the issues and raising concerns. Jevremovic has taken this step a little further by creating a petition to gain public support for change in the mental health industry. She is calling for hospitals, clinics and insurance companies to start looking into tools to make mental healthcare more precise and accessible. You can find and sign the petition here.

  1. 1. Czeisler MÉ , Lane RI, Petrosky E, et al. Mental health, substance use, and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:1049-1057.
  2. “World Mental Health Day 2017.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 28 Feb. 2020, www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/2017/en/. 
  3. Written by Adam Jezard. “Depression Is the No. 1 Cause of Ill Health and Disability Worldwide.” World Economic Forum, www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/05/depression-prevents-many-of-us-from-leading-healthy-and-productive-lives-being-the-no-1-cause-of-ill-health-and-disability-worldwide/.
  4. “Depression.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.

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