Taking a Moment to Check In: How are you doing, really?

Let’s talk about climbing Covid cases, continued uncertainty, and ways to reduce and respond to their impact on our mental health

This week, I’m going to try something a little different.

Instead of just jumping right into a discussion about current events and their impact on policy and mental health, I want to take a second to practice what I preach. I want to ask and encourage you to answer in the comments:

  • How are you?

  • How are you doing, really?

  • How is your summer is going? Are you feeling optimistic about the months ahead, or does recent talk about the Delta variant, vaccine mandates and reinstated rules and restrictions have you feeling anxious and scared?

  • Is there anything I could share with you – or discuss here – that could help?

The reason I want to do this is, indeed, because of some of the headlines I’ve been reading; a lot about climbing Covid-19 cases and a lot more highlighting people who are really struggling – from stories about people seeking help from their spiritual leaders to those who’ve served taking their own lives.

It’s important that these stories get told. But we all know that sometimes, an abundance of stories like these can just be too much to handle. They can elicit sadness, anger and fear, and left unchecked, these feelings can compound into serious mental health and substance use problems.

THE BAD, GOOD, & BETTER NEWS

The bad news is that on the current trajectory, we could see the people whose mental health fared well throughout the first “wave” of the pandemic begin to reach their breaking point. If, like The New York Times says, “The country may again see overflowing hospitals, exhausted health care workers and thousands of needless deaths,” we could see many more people express that their still recovering mental health has once again been negatively impacted by this ongoing crisis. We could see an increase in alcohol consumption, drug misuse and potentially related deaths of despair – especially if we don’t get case counts better controlled come fall.

The good news is that this is just a warning – there’s still time to intervene to make sure that this prediction doesn’t become a reality. The even better news is that the importance of mental health isn’t something that’s lost on our nation’s President.

I wrote previously about how President Biden’s American Families Plan was, though it didn’t say so explicitly, also a plan for mental health. And now, in light of some of what President Biden shared during his town hall, his intentions to improve mental health in America are even more clear.  

President Biden acknowledged on a national stage something I’ve talked about here before: “We don't have nearly enough people involved in mental health and drug addiction services.”

He also highlighted the shortcomings of our criminal justice system as it relates to individuals struggling with addiction. He said that instead of sending people to jail for drug use, we should send them to mandatory rehabilitation. He said that we should provide people who are incarcerated with access to drug treatment. And finally, President Biden said that we should provide formerly incarcerated individuals with housing after they are released – shelter being an essential part of what will hopefully be their successful return to society.

Well Being Trust shares many more potential solutions to this issue here. However, that’s not why I’m bringing this up.

PERHAPS THE GREATEST NEWS OF ALL

I’m bringing Biden’s town hall back up in conversation to show that mental health and addiction issues and potential solutions to them aren’t lost on our president. Though his administration is still working to take action, Biden – who, importantly, has lived experience through his son’s struggle with addiction – clearly understands how some mental health issues manifest, how they interact with certain systems, and the challenges facing those in the industry.

This is perhaps the greatest news of all. Why? Because we already know what we can do to begin to get ahead of this next surge of mental health and addiction issues – and appear to have buy-in from the top-down.

That said, in the most immediate term, we can:

1) Get people vaccinated.

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with our mental health?” Well folks, if we don’t get more people vaccinated, Delta (and other variants) will continue to emerge and spread. No one wants to live in a constant state of worrying about themselves, their kids, or their loved ones. That prolonged worry can have a profoundly negative impact on our health.

Further, we already know the trauma our frontline clinicians have experienced, as well as the trauma and grief from the thousands of us who have lost a loved one. We need to get people vaccinated to make sure this does not continue.

2) Bring care to where people are.

This has been a major theme I have pushed for some time, but it is even more true now than ever before. If we remain in a perpetual state of uncertainty with being locked down vs. not, people may go back to avoiding care altogether – or at least not going to clinics as they would have pre-Covid.

From digital solutions where care is beamed into your favorite device to in-home interventions delivered by clinicians of all types, in this moment we should pursue these models – aka advocate for them – and use them as a new standard for care delivery. 

3) Encourage Congress to take action.

We can encourage Congress to start making mental health improvements by doing the three things I talked about in my testimony before the Senate Committee on Finance – create more global and flexible funding mechanisms for primary care practices who are working to integrate mental health, address the workforce issue that Biden raised, and modernize and connect the programs that currently support mental health in our communities – as well as end Medicare’s longstanding discrimination against individuals with mental health and substance use disorders.

In keeping with that goal, The Kennedy Forum, Well Being Trust, and other leading organizations sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi encouraging them to extend the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 to Medicare and making changes to the Social Security Act to make sure that Medicare takes hearing, vision, dental and mental health care into consideration. Patrick Kennedy and I also wrote an op-ed on the topic.

4) All start asking each other how we are doing…

…just like I did at the start of this post.

So, readers, I ask again: How are you doing, really?