Jun 08 2020
**Click here to download audio of this week’s column**
Since 1949, the month of May has marked Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. This campaign aims to draw public attention to the sobering fact that in any given year, one in five Americans will suffer from mental illness. Perhaps even more strikingly, more than 50 percent of us will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in our lives.
Each year’s campaign features a different theme, ranging from encouraging social connectedness and participation in the communities around us to the importance of whole-body health to mental health. Though the focus varies year to year, the goal is always to raise awareness about mental illness and promote mental health.
This year’s theme, “Tools to Thrive,” was a bit different. It was chosen in “a time of unprecedented anxiety about a world pandemic,” and it strived to outline practical ways of improving mental health and remind Americans that it is still possible to have good mental health at this time.
This annual spotlight came at an important time this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of Americans their jobs, and many more have been left feeling isolated from their usual networks of community. Residents of nursing homes have felt this more than most, as they have often been kept from seeing loved ones in an effort to prevent the spread.
In Nebraska, unemployment has risen to over eight percent, more than double our pre-COVID rate. Some industries, such as agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, education, and hospitality, have been hit particularly hard. Several railroad companies have had to lay off many of their workers due to reduced traffic. Many airlines have cut back the number of flights they are operating in Nebraska or suspended service entirely.
Most Nebraska colleges and universities are planning for shortened fall semesters that could end by Thanksgiving, and much remains unclear about whether they will be able to return to regular on-campus operations next semester. And in typical years, the month of May also brings graduations. But nearly all ceremonies across Nebraska were canceled, and those that were held did so in a limited capacity.
Small business owners across Nebraska and the country have struggled to keep their employees on board and pay overhead. On top of all of this, many families are adjusting to working from home for the first time while also caring for their children, whose schools and daycares remain closed.
Together, these things have combined to create an environment of frustration, uncertainty, and anxiety. Congress has responded to the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19 through legislation such as the CARES Act.
And in mid-May, the Senate unanimously passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, a bipartisan bill that would designate a three-digit phone number for a national suicide prevention hotline. The current hotline is ten numbers long, and this is a barrier to many Americans seeking support in times of crisis. Establishing a three-digit hotline would make it easier to find help and would save countless lives.
Many people with mental illness struggle silently. Mental Health Awareness Month is a reminder to check in on our loved ones—to remind a friend or family member who may be sick, isolated, or lonely that we care about them. In the world of social distancing, this could mean talking over Skype, writing a quick Facebook message, or sending flowers and a handwritten note. In the digital age, the possibilities for connecting with one another are nearly endless.
And if you are struggling with a mental health issue, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take advantage of the resources that are available to you. The Nebraska Family Helpline at 888-866-8660 is supervised by licensed mental health professionals, and they are available 24/7 to assist families. The Boys Town National Hotline at 800-448-3000 is also available 24/7, and their specially trained and accredited counselors are able to address a wide range of issues.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.