Mental Illness Awareness Week has special focus on those coping with effects of COVID-19

Monday, Oct. 4 marks the beginning of Mental Illness Awareness Week, and this annual event couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for our country, as millions struggle to cope with depression and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the week, we at SERV Behavioral Health System, Inc. are joining with other mental health advocates across the country to raise awareness and fight the stigmas around mental illness. In addition, we are encouraging everyone to take a mental health screening, seek treatment if they need it and connect with others who may be struggling.

Mental illness is far more common than you may think. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 19.1% of U.S. adults (1 in 5) experienced mental illness in 2018. Of course, many expect to see an increase in those numbers in 2019 and 2020, as we all navigate the many challenges posed by this pandemic.

The good news is that, more often than not, people recover from mental illness. With support and treatment, between 70% and 90% of individuals report reduced symptoms and improved quality of life. That said, anyone experiencing mental illness should seek help immediately. Why suffer alone in silence when the path to recovery may only be a few steps away?

The problem is, many don’t reach out for assistance because they fear discrimination. Even though millions of people in the U.S. are affected by mental illness each year, stigma and misunderstanding are also widespread. This is why it’s important to speak up if we hear inaccurate information about mental health and share the facts. We also can all help create more open and supportive communities by starting a conversation about mental health in our daily lives.

Mental Illness Awareness Week also coincides with National Depression Screening Day, which is observed on October 8. According to SAMHSA, major depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 6.7% (more than 16 million) of U.S. adults each year on average. And unfortunately, the pandemic has caused a drastic spike in cases for 2019 and 2020.

Like screenings for other illnesses, depression screenings should be a routine part of healthcare. The quickest and easiest way to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition is by participating in an online screening. Mental Health America has made several screenings available on their website, and they come highly recommended by mental health professionals across the country.

For those experiencing mild depression, lifestyle adjustments can help. Sleep, exercise and meditation can all have positive effect on psychological well-being. Social support is also vital—even if the support is provided virtually.

But if you are feeling overwhelmed, if the weight of your depression or anxiety becomes too heavy to take on alone, then it’s time to seek professional help. And thankfully, there are organizations located throughout New Jersey that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of various mental illnesses, as well as offer support services.

At SERV Behavioral Health System Inc., we help transform lives through compassionate care and empowering individuals to embrace their full potential. We have facilities in 11 counties in New Jersey: Burlington, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset and Union. Our programs include a continuum of residential services, partial-care programs and outpatient care focusing on individual needs.

Last year alone, we served more than 2,200 individuals in our programs. These are your family members, your friends, your neighbors and your children. They deserve your respect and support. They need to know that they are not alone.

So, we ask that you please join us this week—and throughout the year—as we raise awareness and fight the stigmas around mental illness. We also strongly encourage you to monitor your own mental health and reach out to a friend, family member or professional if you are struggling. This is a difficult time, and there is help available for anyone who needs it.

For access to care, call 1-833-CAN-SERV or email accesstocare@servbhs.org.

Regina Widdows
President and CEO
SERV Behavioral Health System, Inc.
Ewing