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EDITORIAL: World Mental Health Day highlights need for health care reform

In a post-pandemic world, destigmatizing mental health is more important than ever

The pandemic's toll on mental health makes urgent the need for better and more accessible care. – Photo by Mental Health America / Twitter

In the first year of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the prevalence of depression and anxiety increased globally by an incredible 25 percent. Such a jarring increase shows the intensity of the pandemic’s effects on our collective mental health. The major stressors of the pandemic, namely the inability to have a social life among other setbacks, triggered the increase in mental health problems.

Despite this large increase in mental health problems, the quality and accessibility of care have decreased. In the U.S., for example, our ability to manage and support individuals facing severe mental health issues is underperforming at an unacceptable level. In fact, in 2022, more than half of U.S. adults struggling with difficulties surrounding mental health do not receive treatment. Additionally, more than 60 percent of youth with major depression do not receive any treatment.

The mental health treatment system in this country is woeful, and — if the trend of increasing incidents of mental health problems continues — this is not a sustainable model to care for the psychological well-being of citizens at all. 

Such issues bring into focus the importance of days that bring attention to mental health struggles. Monday was World Mental Health Day. The day is internationally recognized, and it serves to bring about better awareness, education and advocacy for such issues. The overarching goal of the day, of course, is to end the social stigmas attached to mental health and psychological disorders to ultimately make sure people know where to find resources for support.

Awareness is critical to undermining stigma. Because psychological problems are often unseen or unclear, some caregivers might not treat such problems with the same care as they might provide for other physical ailments.

This initial barrier might lead people to internalize mental health stigmas. As a consequence, they might decide not to seek help, fearing they will not be believed or get the help they need.

One of the best ways to combat this stigma is to give agency to people suffering from mental health crises. Like other diseases, mental health issues have patients who are real people with real feelings and real concerns. To ensure that individuals feel heard and to encourage more people to openly discuss their own struggles, we must afford anyone suffering from mental health crises the type of respect other patients receive.

Destigmatization, too, does not just mean that we simply post infographics on social media and call it a day. Instead, destigmatization involves working in your communities, listening to people and committing to working toward a better system for all through advocacy in the healthcare system and beyond.

Days dedicated to awareness are crucial for resisting stigmas and making sure that individuals who are suffering can seek help. While awareness is an important topic, this day also calls for a commitment among everyone — from students to university officials, from voters to legislators — to fight for a better, more just mental health care system in general.

Our health care system, already, is cost-prohibitive. If you cannot afford something, you might not get the quality health care you need. That problem is true and even worse for those struggling with their mental health. Our health care system needs to become more accessible to everyone. No one should struggle because they cannot afford a therapist or any other course of treatment.

On another front, our culture at times seems incompatible with mental health care. We are usually so fixated on quick and easy fixes that we do not receive the care that might be needed. Likewise, we are usually so work-centric that our psychological needs come secondary. This cannot be the case.

We need to approach mental health with an understanding that it is wholly different than our fast-paced lives. Mental health care takes time — it is not a singular destination, but rather a process of figuring things out. In that process comes healing.

Providers must be aware of this long-term commitment, and likewise, individuals seeking care also need to know how long mental health care takes. Individuals should take their time in finding a therapist, even seeing a few to get a sense of what works for them. Then, they need to stick with the process, even if it feels long or if they do not see immediate results.

For those of us still in college at Rutgers, we should take advantage of the counseling services the University offers, like Counseling, Alcohol & Other Drug Assistance Program & Psychiatric Services (CAPS). Rutgers should even expand the number of resources available to make sure that there are enough counselors and appointments for a university as large as we are.

Students who live in residence halls should also take advantage of their resident assistants (RA). If you are struggling with a problem, you can talk to your RA, and they will be able to help you and offer even more resources.

Ultimately, mental health care needs to be personal. Caring for our mental health is difficult, as it can feel lonely and isolating. It is important to seek care that is personal and that helps you navigate the challenges of life, especially in a time as difficult as our own.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health issue or substance abuse, do what you can to support them and have them reach out to CAPS.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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