Despite the numerous bumps in the 2020 road, in the aftermath, a few bright spots are emerging. One, in particular, serves as a small step in the right direction on the long road to a better understanding and treating mental health.
In the last year, although instances of mental health crisis issues have increased, the number of suicides actually decreased 5 percent according to the National Vital Statistics System. According to the Utah State Medical Examiner’s Office, early data shows a decrease in Southwest Utah office when comparing 2019-2020 numbers with 2015-2016.
Jordan Merrill, senior community health specialist with Intermountain Healthcare, says the reason for the decrease is likely multi-faceted, but one key component seems to be an increase in education and services available to those struggling with mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
Some even credit the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the reasons for this increased awareness.
“The pandemic forced some people to pay attention to the problem and allowed them a little more time to find the support they needed,” Merrill says, adding that many organizations provided additional support for mental health needs during this time.
“A number of health systems across the state provided things like Intermountain Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Navigation Line,” Merrill says. “It is free and open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. We’ve also tried to increase our training on how to assist people in mental health crisis.”
Combine those efforts with basic human kindness, and you’ve got a recipe with potential for success.
“People were more aware of each other,” Merrill says. “The big issue, and the concern for many during the last year, was isolation. People found other ways to reach out when they couldn’t just knock on the person’s door.”
In some cases, Merrill says that portions of the elderly population had more contact from their loved ones than they did in a pre-COVID world because family members were “hyper-vigilant” and used other, more frequent methods to connect.
Even with the gains made during this time, Merrill says the stigma surrounding mental health is still alive and well, so the need for education and awareness remains.
“People are uncomfortable talking about mental health,” Merrill says. “We feel like we need to be an expert to help, but that’s not the case. We just need to be more caring. Be a good listener; respond with empathy.”
For those who are prone to mental health challenges, Merrill says it’s important to limit the things that bring you down mentally, such as overexposure to social media, the news and other triggers.
Mental and emotional health challenges can be ongoing or happen as isolated incidents, similar to a person dealing with chronic or acute physical challenges.
“We should be taking these issues seriously whether they are acute or chronic,” Merrill says. “A one-time mental breakdown is just as serious as a person with lifelong depression.”
In each case, the person struggling should reach out for help; and those around them need to be listening.
“We don’t need to have the answers, we just need to have some ears,” Merrill says.
A variety of free services with online support are out there for anyone in need.
- Intermountain’s Behavioral Health Navigation Line 833-442-2211
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
“If you see someone struggling, don’t hesitate to ask them how they’re doing,” Merrill says. “You don’t have to be an expert to be a good friend.”
This Live Well column represents collaboration between healthcare professionals from the medical staffs of our not-for-profit Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and The Spectrum & Daily News.