As pandemic continues, mental health is key

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced seismic shifts in our daily lives. It has brutalized our economy and left many jobless. It has claimed too many of our loved ones and created many uncertainties in our lives personally and professionally.

These challenges are exacerbating an already serious problem in our country. In October, the American Psychological Association published its Stress in America 2020 report, which found that the many stressors caused by COVID-19 were intensifying a national mental health crisis. In the report, 78% of adults reported that the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. The APA also found that 61% of adults reported that they had not sought or received help for their mental health struggles.

Adults are not the only ones feeling this strain. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in November found a staggering increase in mental health-related visits to emergency rooms for children between 2 and 17 years old.

In the face of these alarming trends, it is clear that we cannot ignore the mental health crisis that is unfolding. As a society, we have in recent years grown more willing to discuss mental health, an important shift that has helped destigmatize conditions such as depression. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made mental health issues worse. We can help decrease its burden by remaining willing to discuss our struggles with our loved ones and mental health professionals.

At Van Andel Institute, our scientists have spent years studying depression. While we have not studied how COVID-19 may impact mental health, our work has identified many root causes of depression. Social and psychological stressors play a large role, and growing evidence also points to biological factors such as prolonged inflammation. Our scientists who work in this area collaborate with doctors and mental health professionals at institutions across the country, as well as local ones like Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services.

The pandemic has underscored the urgency of the work happening at VAI and other organizations to better understand the complex web of factors that give rise to depression. We have much work yet to do. But right now, there are many real consequences to the physical and mental health damage caused by COVID-19.

Please do not hesitate to seek help if you or a loved one need it. Whatever your circumstance, there are mental health resources available at michigan.gov/staywell.

The psychological effects of the pandemic will continue to compound. We will turn the tide against COVID-19, but just as it is important to safeguard our physical health against the effects of the virus, we must remember to give the same attention to our mental health.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free and available 24/7 at (800) 273-8255. The Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services Psychiatric Urgent Care Center can be reached at (616) 455-9200 or toll-free at (800) 678-5500. David Van Andel is chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute.

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