Health

Revisiting the Biggest Mental Health News of 2022

It was a big year for mental health in our headlines. Where the news of the prior two years focused primarily on destigmatization and spreading awareness of mental health challenges in the face of a global pandemic, 2022 showcased far more tangible shifts in our approach to care.

Some very real solutions appear to be on the horizon and politicians, the federal government, school systems, celebrities, and medical researchers are all on board. There is a long road ahead and 2022 also brought a lot of new roadblocks to light, but we’re feeling cautiously optimistic.

What follows are some of the most interesting and encouraging mental health news stories of the past year. We hope it sparks some reflection and reiterates the importance of covering mental health in this way, especially since nearly 50 million adult Americans are dealing with a mental illness.

New Legislation Takes on Mental Health

It’s no secret that the government, on both the state and federal level, needs to do more to improve the mental healthcare available to US citizens. Multiple major pieces of mental health-focused legislation (frequently bipartisan) were sent to Congress, and several have been signed into law. Seeing this type of movement on a national level is a big step in the right direction.

  • The Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Act of 2022, introduced in May, aims to increase mental healthcare workers, examine the mental health care coverage companies provide, and support programs introduced by the 21st Century Cares Act in 2016. It also supports behavioral and mental health programs within the justice system.
  • Passed by the House of Representatives in September 2022, the Mental Health Matters Act makes more funds available for mental health service providers in schools. This could impact the almost 60% of youth dealing with major depression who don’t receive care. The Act also creates an occupational research program on mental health.
  • The Restoring Hope for Mental Health and Well-Being Act of 2022 passed the House of Representatives in June of this year. This Act seeks to strengthen substance abuse disorder care and keep more than 30 mental health programs in place through 2027, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children with Serious Emotional Disturbances Program.

Furthermore, in October the Biden Administration announced that it will designate $300 million to fund mental health services for students and kids, including broadening the reach of pediatric mental health care.

A Simplified National Suicide Hotline Went Live

As of July 16, 2022, people seeking help during a mental health crisis can now dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, instead of the previous number, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). Experts say the shorter number is easier to remember and allows someone in need to reach help more quickly. In just a short time frame, the new hotline has made a difference.

In October 2022, 31% more calls were answered, chats jumped by 234%, and texts increased by a whopping 1230% when compared with October 2021. Research shows that calls were also answered more quickly, with the average speed decreasing from 170 seconds to only 36 seconds.

President Trump signed the law to change the hotline number in 2020. The move was seen as a step towards making mental health help more accessible and clearly signified it as a national priority. Over 12 million US adults have had serious thoughts of suicide,and suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 25 to 34 years old, so an accessible hotline is a necessity.

The unprecedented call volume to the new hotline has highlighted staffing shortages and underfunding in crisis call centers. In spite of those concerns, the 988 number has been largely seen as a positive move for mental health care.

Mental Health Days Matter

Thought to be largely due to the isolation they experienced during the pandemic, adolescents are struggling with mental health on a larger scale than ever before. Research notes that 30% of high school students have continual feelings of hopelessness or sadness. In 2019, for every 6 youth, 1 of them made a suicide plan. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24.

Issues like COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, school shootings, violence, crime, politics, and family financial problems have added to the stress that kids are feeling. Schools and state legislators recognize the impact of mental health on kids’ ability to function. They are taking definitive steps to help students.

Several states have put laws into place that let students use mental or behavioral health as reasons to miss school. Oregon was the first to pass legislation in 2019, allowing students to take up to five days off from school within a three-month period for mental health reasons. Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Virginia, and Utah are among some of the other states to follow suit with mental health legislation.

A number of other states have bills that have been proposed. While 36 states don’t have rules on the books to allot for mental health days, those that do have made a strong statement in support of mental health care.

Some signs that your child may be struggling with their mental health include low energy, sleeping throughout the day, excessive dieting, isolation, and self-harm behaviors. Seek help immediately if your child is dealing with suicidal thoughts.

The Future of Therapy Is Psychedelic

With more than one in four adults in the United States experiencing mental health issues, physicians have realized that while therapy and medication are effective, they don’t work for everyone. For some dealing with more severe or treatment-averse conditions, research-backed psychedelic treatments are becoming an increasingly popular option.

According to a recent Verywell Mind survey, if psychedelics received FDA approval, 1 in 3 Americans would be open to using them as a part of their treatment plan.

Study after study has shown success using psychedelics to treat depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other cognitive issues. However, stigma persists ever since concerns about drug abuse led the government to outlaw this class of substances in 1973.

Fortunately, several states are taking a closer look at reintroducing psychedelics for medicinal and therapeutic purposes.

In November, Colorado passed the Natural Medicine Act, legalizing the use of five psychedelic substances for adults ages 21 and older. Psilocybin, the compound found in “magic mushrooms”, has been legalized in Colorado, Oregon, and parts of Michigan. Ayahuasca/DMT and ketamine are also legalized in various parts of the nation. MDMA is legal for use in clinical trials, or when deemed medically necessary. LSD is not legal for use in the United States.

Some states have taken the path of decriminalizing the use of psychedelics. This means the drugs are still illegal but are the lowest priority for law enforcement and prosecution.

It’s important to keep in mind that while psychedelics may provide a valuable treatment alternative for severe mental health conditions, experts recommend only using the drugs under the supervision of a medical professional.

An Adderall Shortage Hits Hard

Ten million adults in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD and that number only appears to be growing. For them, Adderall is a common and well-known prescription stimulant that greatly alleviates symptoms of the condition. More than 25 million prescriptions were written for Adderall in 2018 and it’s also been prescribed for narcolepsy and depression.

So, when the Food and Drug Administration announced a widespread shortage of the drug in October, it caused significant concern for the people who depend on it.

Several problems can lead to drug shortages. Issues with drug quality, manufacturing delays, or even the discontinuation of ingredients can make it hard to keep medication on the shelf. In the case of Adderall, one of the largest manufacturers of mixed amphetamine salts that are used in Adderall experienced major delays. That put pressure on other manufacturers to produce more of the drug, and they couldn’t keep up with demand.

Without access to the drug, patients can experience symptoms of withdrawal. Fatigue, depression, mental confusion, irritability, anxiety, and panic attacks can happen when someone stops using Adderall. Over-the-counter medications can also alleviate some of these symptoms. So can getting enough rest, eating healthy foods, and exercising.

Experts say the shortage may last through the beginning of 2023. They also say patients should talk to their healthcare providers about alternative treatments.

The Kids Are Not Alright

Three major pediatric organizations sounded the alarm on kids’ mental health. The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in adolescents’ mental health. And mental health statistics support this call to action.

Young people who say they had a major depressive episode doubled during a 10-year period from 2009 to 2019. Emergency room visits for children who tried to harm themselves rose exponentially, increasing 329% from 2007 to 2016. In 2020, emergency room visits for mental health reasons jumped 31% for kids ages 12 to 17, and 24% for kids ages 5 to 11.

Parents are also noticing the decline in the state of their kids’ mental health. Thirty-one percent of parents surveyed by Kaiser Family Foundation say their child’s mental and emotional health deteriorated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The global pandemic took a toll, with 1 in 4 adolescents having increased depression symptoms, and 1 in 5 kids dealing with heightened anxiety issues.

Mental health issues are affecting children in the classroom and in their households. Officials, parents, and educators acknowledge the vast scope of the problem. Some are taking decisive action.

Several states have implemented mental health days for kids to take a break from school if needed. Legislators proposed laws to bring mental health care to the forefront of the nation’s agenda. Therapy and medication options are available to treat symptoms.

While all of these things can help, it’s important to allow children the space and freedom to express what they are feeling, receive care and support from friends and family, and receive the treatment they need.

The Serotonin Imbalance Theory Upended

The theory that depression is the result of a serotonin imbalance—or the result of a so-called “chemical imbalance” more broadly—was well-accepted by the psychiatric community. But in July, a large-scale meta-analysis of decades worth of data cast doubt on that theory.

Researchers say that there is no clear evidence that the activity of serotonin levels leads to depression. Their findings, published in Molecular Psychiatry, also challenge the effectiveness of serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or antidepressants. Those medications are aimed at regulating serotonin levels, but if the research shows that depression isn’t impacted by a chemical imbalance, then do antidepressants really help?

More than 13% of Americans aged 18 and older take some form of antidepressant medication. More women use the medication than men. In fact, almost 25% of women aged 60 and older take the medication.

For many people, SSRIs are hugely beneficial—they reduce depression symptoms, and help them better cope with everyday life. If they’re working then this news shouldn’t trigger people to stop treatment. If you choose to do so be sure to consult a medical professional. Researchers just need to better figure out why and how they work.

Quiet Quitting and Workplace Burnout

Quiet quitting was a major trend amongst working professionals this year. Particularly for millennials and Gen Z . While its name is a misnomer, the practice is real and might be saving people from mental health burnout at work.

Quiet quitting means that people put clear boundaries between work and their life outside of work, into place. It essentially entails letting go of the need to overachieve by leaving work on time, ignoring work-related calls and emails during their personal time, and turning down tasks that are not in their job description.

It also means becoming less emotionally involved with work as a whole. In essence, it’s separating work life and personal life, and protecting mental health in the process.

By taking back some of their individual autonomy, people gain a more reasonable work/life balance. The pressure to do more in the office, gain the promotion, and work 80-hour work weeks, disappears.

What also disappears is the potential for workplace burnout. A recent survey found that 63% of employees feel like they can’t disconnect from work or take time away. Thirty percent of those surveyed say a heavy workload or stressful job keeps them taking care of their well-being; 27% say long hours on the job are the culprit. Quiet quitting is an attempt to level the playing field in favor of mental health.

Still, the trend can have its drawbacks. Employers and colleagues may misconstrue quiet quitting as a lack of interest in work, or advancement. However, communicating your needs clearly, working efficiently, and completing your tasks during work hours show your commitment to your job. Leaving at a reasonable time and prioritizing your personal life outside of work show a commitment to yourself, and your mental health.

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