Daniel H. Gillison, Jr.
CEO, National Alliance on Mental Illness
In recent months, we’ve seen the impact of a global pandemic on all aspects of society. We’ve felt the disruptive changes and increased isolation to our daily lifestyle. We’ve heard from people that the uncertainty of the future can be triggering, especially for people living with serious mental illness. As we reflect on this pervasive impact, we should recognize the exponential increase in the need for accessible and quality mental healthcare.
This Mental Health Awareness Month, we need everyone to understand – the health of our nation includes mental health. With this awareness, we can push for the things that really make a difference: access to care and ensuring people get the care they need before they reach a crisis.
While COVID-19 has been a challenging time for us all, it also demonstrated how we have the capability to make improvements to the mental healthcare system. For example, there was a rapid expansion and increased availability of telehealth and teletherapy that significantly improved access to care in both rural and urban areas. The trend of expanded tele-mental health became the new normal for therapists in order to reach their patients during the pandemic.
While this was helpful during the time of social distancing, it is a practice that should be available long after this pandemic is over. About 60 percent of counties in the United States do not have a single practicing psychiatrist. Anecdotally, we’ve seen digital access to mental healthcare providers via FaceTime or other conferencing platforms provide a lifesaving option for people unable to go to therapy.
We’ve experienced an unprecedented effort to support one another through this time by staying connected remotely. Even while being physically distant from friends and family, talking to another person about your worries through online tools like Skype, FaceTime, email, and text can be very helpful. We’ve also seen an increase in online peer-support groups using conferencing tools. Just knowing that others share the same fears can be both validating and comforting.
We’ve come together as a nation to weather this crisis, and we need to continue this positive momentum. During this Mental Health Awareness Month, we endeavor to turn the tragic and life-changing circumstances of COVID-19 into a spotlight on the need for long-term improvements in our mental healthcare system and increased access to mental healthcare for all.
The road ahead
Our strength and resilience have gotten us this far and will continue to help us overcome any future obstacles. As a collective community, we will endeavor to find creative solutions to improve lives. The National Alliance on Mental Illness and its more than 600 affiliates throughout the United States are committed to building a community that cares. We provide advocacy, education, and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better, fulfilling lives.
Join us this Mental Health Awareness Month to raise awareness about the importance of quality mental healthcare. We are stronger together, and together, we can accomplish important initiatives to improve the lives of everyone touched by mental illness.