We all go through tough times. It is normal to feel anxious, sad, grief, uncertainty and a host of other feelings within the same month – or even the same day. 

Throughout the pandemic, many individuals have struggled with isolation, financial hardship, and simple boredom. To top it off, political strife, human rights violations and the current war have added fear and resentments – all of which fuel mental health challenges. 

The current situation reminds me of the emotional impact of the 2008 economic crash. During that time, I worked solely in private practice as a marriage and family therapist. I had many “successful” clients – business owners, entrepreneurs, hardworking and responsible individuals – who proclaimed bankruptcy, loss of employment and, for many, their homes. Their standard talk therapy sessions no longer sufficed and additional medications, increased treatment, and support were needed. These were solid citizens without previous diagnosis of anxiety or depression; the stress of 2008 simply catalyzed their mental health crisis.

This type of stress, which can be physical, mental, emotional, environmental, and relational, can also be the catalyst for disease. An example is alcoholism. An individual can have the gene for alcoholism and it is never expressed. The individual may grow up in a family that is abstinent from drinking and life is easy going. They leave home, go to college, start a career, get married and start a family. They go to church, take their kids to soccer and experience normal life stresses. Perhaps in their 40s, the person (who now drinks socially), has a traumatic event such as the loss of a child or career. Potentially, this can lead to a person’s genetic system being “turned on” where they now abuse and/or become dependent on alcohol. They require intensive treatment to manage this destructive disease and a continuous treatment plan to prevent relapse. 

The same is true of other diseases such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Our center has seen a 50 percent increase in patients being treated at a higher level of care for anxiety and depression within the last two years. Individuals who could have been treated in regular weekly outpatient programs are now being seen multiple days per week, several hours a day. The same is true for our intensive outpatient program for eating disorders, with the number of patients seeking treatment up by 50 percent. Those requiring residential care have had to wait 8-12 weeks in outpatient settings as residential facilities are full.

There is no group (ethnic, sexual identity, gender, socio-economic, age, etc.) that has escaped the recent onslaught. Children as young as 11 years old are self-harming and others are afraid to return to school. The overwhelming frequency of cyberbullying has paralyzed some children with depressive and anxiety symptoms. Many adults in our intensive outpatient programs have chosen to attend virtually, as we slowly coax them out of the perceived safety of their homes into our offices. Similar to 2008, many of the seniors in our intensive outpatient programs for mental health were emotionally high functioning prior to the pandemic, but now need significant support.

So, if you are struggling, know that you are not alone. There is no shame in any disease whether emotional, physical or mental; recognizing the signs and seeking help are key. 

Fortunately, insurance is now covering mental health issues due to parity of care, as science has recognized that the brain is actually a bodily organ, just like the liver. As insurance covers the cost of a brain tumor, it now covers the cost of other disorders of the brain, with no shame attached. We don’t tell people with brain tumors to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” so we should do the same with those suffering with anxiety, depression and the like. 

If you or someone you know is suffering with mental health, I urge you to seek treatment as suffering is an unnecessary option. Insurance companies have case managers who can advocate and assist you in getting timely care, and many centers offer low-cost treatment based upon ability to pay. 

Kelly Lewallen is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Palm Desert (#37832) and a member of Desert Doctors. She can be reached at (760) 777.7720. For more information visit www.desertmarriagefamily.com or www.DesertDoctors.org.

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