Spring is a time of renewal, and I think that idea perfectly encapsulates that sense of optimism — cautious as it may be — we all feel now as the COVID-19 vaccines become increasingly available to a larger percentage of the general public.
While we continue to take all of the appropriate measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, I do think it’s perfectly healthy to think about all of the things that will gradually reenter our lives as we gain better control over the virus, among them weddings, birthday parties, air travel, movie theaters, museums, concerts, professional sporting events, full schools and hugging our loved ones.
We humans are hardwired to be social, and these seemingly simple pleasures have taken on a new level of appreciation because of the pandemic.
Of course, we also must reckon with the fact that the past year-plus has been a period of extraordinary grief, stress and uncertainty — and there are still challenges ahead. And so, with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, now seems an especially appropriate time to encourage you to not be afraid to seek out the many resources that are available to those who may need help.
Once again, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is stressing its “You Are Not Alone” message as part of its awareness campaign.
As we know, mental illness is a full-scale epidemic of its own: one in five American adults experience it in some form, while one in 20 are seriously afflicted, according to NAMI. Meanwhile, 17% of youths ages 6-17 have mental health disorders. Types of mental illness range from anxiety and depression to obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
In Pennsylvania alone, 1.86 million adults have a mental health disorder, according to NAMI. However, only about four in 10 people with mental health issues sought treatment within the last year. This is a truly tragic, especially when you consider the fact that one American dies by suicide every 12 minutes.
Looking at these jarring statistics, it’s clear we need to do a better job both within the medical community and in society in general to further destigmatize mental health so that people aren’t so reluctant to seek out the help that they need.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great mental health resources available right here in Northeast Pennsylvania. At The Wright Center, we offer a wide range of behavioral health services — therapy, psychological assessments, psychiatric care, etc. — for children, adolescents and adults facing a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, substance-related and addictive disorders, bullying, relationship stressors, LGBTQI+ issues, trauma, loss and grief.
And, in response to the current shortage of psychiatrists locally and nationally, The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education now has its own ACGME-accredited psychiatry residency. In June, we’ll celebrate our first class of graduates, who have spent the past four years training in regional public health-based settings, working closely with primary care and addiction medicine teams. We’re very proud of our residents and the critical function the residency is serving.
No question, the pandemic has provided us with a great test of our resilience, which I believe the vast majority of us have passed resoundingly. And, with any luck, it’s made us more compassionate and empathetic. After all, who among us hasn’t stopped to think about the lonely isolation countless COVID patients endured during their final hours, and the agonizing grief felt by the loved ones who couldn’t be there to comfort them? These are scars that won’t heal easily, but with a good mental health apparatus available to us, we have the resources to work through our collective grief.
As the saying goes, you truly are not alone.
Jignesh Y. Sheth, M.D., a primary care physician dually board-certified in internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as Chief Medical Officer and serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations for The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. He sees patients at the Wright Center’s Jermyn practice and lives with his family in Clarks Summit. Send your medical questions to email@example.com.