Mental Illness and Health Insurance

mental illness and health insurance text overlaying image of flowers falling out of a cutout of a head In the last few years mental illness has steadily become a topic of conversation for many people. We’re seeing people take their mental health more seriously. It’s important to take care of your mental health. In fact, it’s just as important as your physical health. Insurers haven’t always seen it this way, though. In the past, many health insurance companies covered physical health problems greater than mental health problems. However, thanks to the Mental Health Parity Act and the Affordable Care Act, health insurance covers mental health the same way it covers physical health. Below we’ll look at both of these laws and why mental health is so important.

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Mental Health Parity Law

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act was passed in 2008. The law is more commonly known as the mental health parity law or the federal parity law. It says that insurance companies must treat coverage for mental illness and behavioral health and substance use disorders the same as coverage for medical and surgical care. This includes treating them the same financially. For example, an insurance company can’t charge a $40 copay for an office visit to a mental health professional when they only charge a $20 copay for most medical office visits. 


The parity law also covers limits on treatment that are not related to money. For example, it used to be common to put limits on the number of visits to mental health care that could be made in a year. The law has pretty much done away with these annual limits, but it doesn’t stop the insurance company from putting limits in place that have to do with “medical necessity.”

Health Plans Affected By The Mental Health Parity Law

In general, the following types of health insurance are covered by the mental health parity law:


  • Employer group health coverage for companies with more than 50 employees
  • Plans bought through a health insurance exchange 
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Most Medicaid programs, however requirements can vary from one program to another

Some other plans and programs run by the government are still not covered by the parity law. The federal parity law does not apply to Medicare, but it does apply to Medicaid. Some state employee plans, like those that cover teachers and people who work at state universities, can choose not to follow the parity rules.

Diagnoses Covered By The Mental Health Parity Law

The federal parity law covers all mental health and substance-use disorders that a health plan covers. But a health plan can choose to not cover certain diagnoses, whether they are in the physical/medical realm or the behavioral/mental health realm. This is because the parity law doesn’t require insurers to offer mental health benefits. Instead, it says that if mental health benefits are offered, they can’t have stricter requirements than physical health benefits. Your plan’s description of mental health benefits should tell you about any exceptions.

Mental Health And The Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed in 2010, and its goal was to make healthcare more affordable. Plans that follow the ACA guidelines include mental health care as one of the “10 essential health benefits”. This means that if you sign up for an ACA-compliant health plan, your mental health services are covered. The ACA also says that insurance companies have to put a limit on how much customers have to pay out of pocket and that there can’t be limits on how much mental health care is covered annually or for a person’s whole life. These steps make sure that people can get mental health insurance and that it is affordable.

What Mental Health Services Are Covered?

All ACA compliant plans should cover mental health as an essential health benefit. Your plan should cover some or most of the cost of mental health services, just like it would for other medical conditions. All plans under the ACA must cover the following mental illness services:


  • Outpatient individual or group counseling and therapy
  • Diagnostic services like psychological testing and evaluation
  • Ongoing outpatient treatment such as treatment programs and medication management
  • Outpatient treatment for alcohol or chemical addictions
  • Detox services
  • Substance abuse recovery treatment
  • Inpatient mental healthcare in a psychiatric facility

Why Mental Health Coverage Is So Important

There are many reasons why having health insurance that covers mental health needs is a good idea. Mental health issues can happen to almost anyone at any time, with most of these issues needing treatment. The cost of therapy and medication can quickly add up and get expensive. If you don’t have insurance for mental health, you would end up paying out-of-pocket for your care. It could easily amount to tens of thousands of dollars. On top of being financially beneficial, mental health coverage can also save lives. If you have a mental health condition, it’s hard to put a price on how important treatment is. Let’s look further into the impact mental health has.

  • Physical Health

Studies show a link between mental health and physical health. Mental illness can cause stress and make our immune systems less effective. Because of this, our bodies may not be able to handle illness as well. When your mind is sick, you might develop anxiety or depression, which can make it difficult if not impossible to stay active. Which can lead to letting your physical health deteriorate and struggle to correct it.

  • Relationships

One of the most interesting reasons why mental health is so important is that it affects your personal relationships. Mental illness can change the way you talk to your friends and family. People with mental illness are often passive-aggressive, hostile, and unable to join social activities. This can cause problems within your emotional support system. Mental illness can make us want to hurt people we care about for no apparent reason. Taking care of our mental health on our own and, if needed, taking medicine can help us live a mentally stable life and keep our relationships.

  • Emotional Well-Being

How you feel on the inside every day is just as important as how healthy your body is. Advice about mental health shows how a negative mind can make you feel sad, angry, or uneasy. Taking care of your emotional health can help you be more productive and effective at work and in your daily life. You can get advice about your mental health from friends, family, and a psychologist to keep an eye on your emotional and overall health.

  • Prevent Suicide

A study by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) found that 46% of people who kill themselves have a known mental health problem. In another study, the US Department of Health and Human Services found that about 60% of people who killed themselves had a mental illness like major depression, bipolar disorder, or dysthymia. This shows the link between mental health and suicide, as well as how early medical intervention and self-care can help reduce the number of suicide deaths. It is important to follow advice to keep our mental health in good shape and to always be aware of the mental health of those around us If you or someone you care about is in trouble, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This number is toll-free. Anyone can use this service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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  • Prevents Criminal Behaviors

Some studies show that if you have a mental health condition, you are more likely to commit violent crimes. The risk is even higher if you use drugs and alcohol and refuse to get proper treatment. Mental health conditions are often the cause of someone committing crimes against their family or friends.

  • Financial Stability

One of the many reasons it’s important to take care of your mental health is that it makes you more productive and financially secure. According to research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, people with serious mental conditions earn 40% less than people without. The World Health Organization also says that depression alone causes nearly 200 million lost workdays every year. It is well known that people with poor mental health are less productive, which hurts their finances. It is important to take care of mental health in the right way if we want good work performance and financial security.

EZ Can Help

Getting help for any signs of mental illness shouldn’t be hard because of how much it costs. We can help if you think you can’t get help because you don’t have enough insurance or can’t afford health insurance. You don’t have to worry about paying for EZ’s help to find an affordable health insurance plan because it is free. We want to make sure that you get the help you need. We’ll give you your own agent, who will compare all the plans available in your area and give you quotes in minutes. We won’t just help you find the best plan, we’ll also sign you up for free. Enter your zip code in the bar below to get free instant quotes, or call 877-670-3557 to talk to a live agent.

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Can a Life Insurance Claim Be Denied?

Can a Life Insurance Claim Be Denied? text overlaying image of a man shaking his hand no One of the best things you can do for your family is to protect their financial future with a life insurance policy. The last thing you want is for their death benefits to be denied after you’ve passed. It’s a rare possibility, but it can happen. If you buy your plan from a reputable life insurance company and make your payments on time, then you don’t have much to worry about. However, it’s important to understand how and why an insurer can contest or delay payment on a claim so you can avoid this problem for your family.

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Reasons A Claim Could Be Denied

Like we said, a life insurance claim denial isn’t common. In fact, it’s fairly easy to avoid. Below we’ve highlighted the reasons a claim can be denied or delayed so you understand what to do to avoid this situation.

Failure To Pay Policy Premiums

If you are not up to date on your premium payments when you pass away, your family may not be eligible for a payout. In fact, this is the most common reason for life insurance claim denials. So, it’s important that you pay your premiums on time, every time. If you don’t keep up with the payments your policy will eventually lapse. However, your insurance company typically notifies you of the late payment. Depending on your state, your insurance company may have to legally give you a grace period, typically about a month to pay the outstanding balance before they cancel the policy. This helps for those times when you need a little extra time to catch up.

Lying On Your Application

You are generally required to disclose any medical conditions and other risks such as dangerous hobbies when you apply for life insurance. The life insurance claim can be denied if you fail to give accurate information on your application. This is because your life expectancy is the base factor in determining your premiums, and whether or not you are eligible for a policy at all. Omitting important details on your application is known as “material misrepresentation”.


An incomplete or false application is another common reason for denials. Life insurance policies generally have a contestability period, which lasts about 2 years depending on the company and your state laws. During this time your insurance company can look into your policy and if they find a misrepresentation, they can decide the policy is void. If you pass away during this time, your insurer has the right to, and most likely will, investigate your family’s claim. If the company finds any misinformation, the company has two options: one, if the misinformation was small enough, they may look at how much you should have been paying on your premium and deduct that amount from the death benefit before releasing it to your beneficiaries, and two is out right denying the claim.


These options depend entirely on the insurance company, how big the misrepresentation was, and your state laws. So, the best thing you can do is just be honest on your application. Even if you have higher risks or health problems there are several life insurance policies that can and will cover you with the correct information.

Things You Should Expect To Disclose

Here are some examples of the kind of important information you have to disclose:


  • Medical history – You have to provide information on any current health conditions including your mental health. You also need to provide prescription history and family health history.
  • Dangerous hobbies – If you regularly participate in a dangerous hobby such as racing, mountain climbing, recreational piloting, and scuba diving you must tell your life insurance company.
  • Dangerous behavior – You have to disclose if you’re a smoker, have a criminal record, dangerous driving record such as a DUI conviction, or other traffic violations.
  • Dangerous jobs – Anyone with a dangerous job may have higher rates because of their daily risks at work. This includes construction workers, active military, firefighters, police, and pilots.

Contestable Circumstances

Contestable circumstances depend on how you pass away. Certain types of death can be excluded from coverage, most often linked with the contestability period we mentioned above. For example, if you say you are not a smoker and then pass away due to emphysema. Other contestable circumstances incur dying while performing an illegal act. While newer policies are starting to have less and less exclusions, older policies may exclude death during military service, acts of war, piloting a plane recreationally, scuba diving and mountain climbing. 


Another contestable circumstance is suicide. Most life insurance policies come with a suicide clause, which states that benefits will not be paid if the policyholder commits suicide within a certain period of time after buying the policy (typically 2 years). Meaning your insurer may deny your family’s claim if you pass away due to suicide within that time period. If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)-273-8255.

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Not Providing Documentation

This one is less common, but it can happen so we’re putting it here just in case. When your family contacts the life insurance company to start the claims process, they will most likely be asked for certain documentation, at the very least they need the death certificate. If your beneficiaries don’t provide the documentation in time their claim can be denied.

Policy Term Has Expired

You could outlive the term of your term life insurance policy, which would result in no death benefits payment. If your policy is about to expire and you need coverage for longer you may be able to renew your policy (at a higher cost) at the end of your term. You may also be able to convert your term policy into a permanent life policy, but there is a window of opportunity to do so. If you’re interested in converting, make sure you know the deadline, so you don’t miss it.

No Designated Beneficiary

A life insurance claim may also be denied if the insured failed to name a beneficiary. Every policy stipulates who should receive the proceeds in the absence of a designated beneficiary. In the absence of a designated beneficiary, an insurance company will distribute the proceeds in accordance with the applicable state law or the policy terms. As insurance companies may mistakenly pay benefits to the wrong person, such claims may result in lengthy delays or denial.


What To Do If A Claim Is Denied

If you receive a claim denial letter it can be scary, especially if you relied on your loved one’s income and the money would supplement that income. If the insurance company finds that the policy holder died of suicide within their clause’s time frame or find another violation during the contestability period, the claim will not only be denied, it can also be disqualified from an appeal. However, other denials can be appealed, below are the steps you can take if you’ve received a denial letter.

Contact The Company

In the initial denial letter, the insurance company will detail the reason they’ve denied the claim. However, if the reasons are unclear or don’t have sufficient supporting information, the best thing to do is request additional information regarding their specific objections to paying out the death benefits. For example, if the denial just says “violation of terms” you can request what the violation was specifically and any documents that “prove” the violation. You should know if you are dealing with a life insurance policy that came from an employer there is typically only 60 days from the denial letter to file an appeal so don’t put off contacting them. 

Contest The Decision

All insurance companies have an appeals process. You will have to file the appeal and provide evidence that the denial was incorrect. For example, if the denial is due to a lapsed policy, you would provide them with the receipts from payment premiums to prove the policy was in fact up to date. You have the option to represent yourself during this appeal. However, while self-representation is free, it comes with added emotional stress due to going through this complex process on top of grieving. In certain cases, you can contact your state’s insurance department or attorney general for help through the appeals process. Generally, the state departments of insurance and attorney general’s office offer easy and free resources to help get your death benefit as long as the claim was valid. Having state representation carries some serious weight during the appeals process so consider contacting them for help.

Working With EZ

It is important to understand why life insurance claims can be denied in order to ensure that your family receives the benefits you want to leave for them. And if you’re in the market for a policy that will safeguard your family’s financial future, be sure to compare policies from different companies and work with a knowledgeable agent. To get started simply enter your zip code into the bar below. Or you can contact one of our licensed agents today at 877-670-3560.

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JJ’s Hello Foundation’s Mission to Say Goodbye to Youth Suicide

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: losing a child. No matter how it happens, it will haunt any parent that experiences this loss for the rest of their lives. But this Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we need to look directly in the face one of the most haunting ways to lose a child, and recognize that it’s happening to far too many families in this country. 

Unfortunately, Michelle Anderson, and her husband Josh, have had to stare the specter of youth suicide in the face for the last six years, after their son JJ died by suicide at the age of just 12 in February of 2016. For most of us, if we’re forced to think about such a tragic situation happening to us, we might imagine that we’d collapse under the weight of the grief, and struggle to find ways to move forward – and that is totally understandable when faced with something that is so, well, un-understandable. 

But for the Andersons, the loss of their son was a call to action, and not a time to look away. They turned their grief into action, in the hopes that other parents would not have to experience the unthinkable, and started their organization, JJ’s Hello Foundation, to educate parents, educators, and young people on the stark reality of youth suicide. We spoke to Michelle Anderson, and she graciously shared her story, so that we can all benefit from her wisdom and action.

“There Was Nothing Out There at All”

jj and his parents
The Andersons started JJ’s Hello Foundation to not just to support survivors, but to also to pick up the slack when it came to resources for and about young people at risk for suicide.

The Andersons did have to experience that unthinkable reality of youth suicide – and the aftermath was not only devastating, but confusing and disheartening. During their time of overwhelming grief, they had nowhere to turn, and couldn’t find what they needed to get through that terrible time: “While we were in the hospital with him, we had no resources,” Michelle told us. “We were trying to figure out where to go, how to move forward, and trying to figure out what can help us, as far as the family and dealing with the loss at the time. So we were just sitting there, and we realized there was nothing out there at all. And with our son being so young, of course they have the suicide hotline, but that was still kind of geared toward older people.”

The situation they were in spurred the Andersons to head online, but not simply to search for help for themselves. They were determined to find out what was out there, and when they were dissatisfied with what they found, they created something. They decided to start JJ’s Hello Foundation – but not just to support survivors. Their goal was also to pick up the slack when it came to resources for and about young people at risk for suicide.

And that’s because it wasn’t just that they couldn’t find resources after the worst had happened. They found out first-hand that there are far too many kids out there who are struggling, and aren’t getting the help they need. In fact, JJ taught them that, not only because of the way he died, but because he knew the real depth of the problem around him.

While the Andersons had been originally baffled as to why JJ took his own life – he wasn’t being bullied at that time, he was a straight-A student, and was involved in his school and community – they found out later that it was because of his desire to help the kids around him, kids that weren’t truly being seen or heard. 

So for the Andersons, JJ’s real legacy is not the way that he died, but the way that he lived: after he died, his parents found out that he had been trying to be a one-person mental health resource for the kids around him. According to Michelle, “A lot of people think that these kids take their lives because they’re being bullied, or you know, but that wasn’t the case with our son – [we found out] after he passed that it had more to do with taking in other people’s issues and problems. So it kind of put everything together for us…he was carrying a lot of other stuff for kids in his peer group – girls who were being molested by family members, LGBTQ kids who couldn’t come out to their parents… So he kind of mentored them through all that, and then he didn’t have an outlet. So with all that in mind, we decided to start the foundation so that we would be able to help teens that are needing those kinds of resources and help.”

“It’s Mind-Blowing”

So how big is the problem? Bigger than most of us would like to think about – and probably scarier when it comes to who is at risk. According to Michelle, “…[O]ne of the saddest things right now is the age range – it’s from 8 to 17, there’s very high numbers of suicides. It’s eight now. It’s very mind-blowing.” 

What’s just as mind-blowing is the fact that suicide is now the second leading cause of death for middle and high school students (ages 12-18), and for young people ages 18 – 22. Overall, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 – 24. All of this means that, according to JJ’s Hello Foundation’s website, “More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.”

This is actually an alarming trend, not something we’ve just always dealt with: suicides among children ages 10 -14 have doubled since 2006. And almost 4,000 high school students are attempting suicide every day (we don’t have the numbers for younger children, but the number would be much higher if we did) – so it’s clear we need to act. But what can we do? Well, with 4 out of 5 teens who attempt suicide giving warning signals before they do so, it sounds like we need to all be paying more attention, to be seeing and hearing the kids in our lives – and JJ’s Hello Foundation is trying hard to teach all of us how to do that.

“When People Are Living That, They Need to Know They’re Not Alone”

Despite these dizzying and discouraging statistics, the Andersons are not giving up. While their foundation has multiple projects – including putting together and distributing mental health kits for young people and co-running an online suicide loss survivors support group – what they seem most proud of is the work they do directly with young people and adults who could be affected by suicide.

Their foundation goes into schools, who generally reach out to them, especially after a parent has lost a child or a child has attempted suicide, and speak to the kids, the parents, and the educators, so everyone can feel like they’re in things together. They talk about how adults and kids can recognize signs of depression and suicide, and how important it is to make sure everyone is seen and heard, as well as how important it is to speak up – not only if you’re struggling, but if someone else is. That’s JJ’s legacy.

JJ and his mom“We go in and we tell them, as parents that lost a child to suicide, we explain to them in hindsight what we learned, what we wish we would have known. It’s one of those things where you don’t  think, as a parent, that your child even knows about suicide.”

They take questions and comments, and also want to be there as another resource to get the kids at the school the help they need. “I can see certain expressions on certain kid’s faces,” Michelle said, “because we’re also mental health first-aiders, so we can see whenever there are a couple of students who could be struggling, we kind of see it.” 

The most important thing, for Michelle, is that they’re there, not just talking, but also listening, as well as making it clear that this happened to them, and it can happen to anyone. Most importantly, they need people to understand that no one is ever alone in their struggles. 

“My biggest thing is that there are a lot of parents and people who are struggling with someone that’s depressed, that’s contemplating [suicide],” said Michelle, “…so when those people are living that, they need to know that they’re not alone. There are other people – a lot of people out there – that are dealing with a family member, or a child, that is also going through a lot of mental health issues. And I think the biggest thing is the stigma – people are scared to talk about it, and they need to be able to open up.” 

And the stigma goes both ways: while we often focus on the stigma that might make it difficult for those experiencing mental health issues to open up, parents who have a child who is struggling might also feel that there is a stigma surrounding having a child experiencing mental health issues, and might find it difficult to open up about what their child is going through. But Michelle urges parents to speak to their child’s school if they are concerned, and not stay silent: “Always start with the school: the school is that child’s second parent,” she says. 

“To the World You Are One Person, to One Person You Are the World”

The Andersons are out there, in the trenches, doing amazing work. They are continually opening up about the nightmare they went through, but for Michelle, that doesn’t rip the wounds open, it helps to heal and move forward. She wants us to know that talking about it can help you, but it can also help those around you, who might also be struggling, or need to know what they can do:JJ and his dad

“Talking about our son and everything we went through is kind of really therapeutic,” she said, “and it also – I’m one of those people that’s very straightforward, I’m not shy, I’m not scared to say things – so being able to talk about it, and knowing that people are actually hearing what I’m saying, and not just listening, I think it makes a world of difference…[Talking about it] also reassures us that what we’re doing is working, it’s positive, it helps us to help others.”

But Michelle points out that she’s only one person, and her organization is only one small foundation, no matter how impactful it is. She urges us, as parents and as parts of communities, to do our small parts with the people in our lives – our families and the strangers around us.

When it comes to our roles as parents, she told us: “I think it’s important that we, as parents, make time – not find time – make time, because if you’re looking for something, you’re never going to find it….Even if it’s an hour, or even if it’s on the way to school, or the way home from school, just like 15-20 minutes, but that’s enough time to show your kids that you see them, and that you’re there for them…Just talk to them, let them know that you’re listening, and let them know that they mean the world to you. That’s one of our mottos: ‘To the world you are one person, to one person you are the world.’ And we are our children’s world, so we need them to know they’re a big part of our world, and we’re here for them.”

In addition, anyone, any adults that have contact with children, can be there the way that the Andersons are, just in smaller ways by “Just talking to them and letting them know that there are other choices. For them not to be scared to speak – talk to their parents, talk to their teacher.” 

And she wants us to remember: it’s us, the adults, who model how children find their places in the world, and we need to step things up. “I can see why kids are going through what they’re going through, said Michelle, “because if we don’t show that we care, why should they?”

“Say Hello, Save a Life”: JJ’s Legacy

people signing hello cards
“Say hello, save a life.”

Finally, we’ll leave you with where JJ’s Hello Foundation got its name, and a little about the boy who sparked the whole thing. Michelle told us, “JJ, well, he really fell in love with the word ‘hello’. And when the song came out from Adele, he took it into a different context, and not as what she was singing about. So to him, it’s ‘hello’ to be seen, so we figured because he talked to everybody [that was a fitting name]…he didn’t care who you were, if you talked to him, he would hold a whole long conversation with you, he would help you with anything that you needed…”

So, to honor his legacy, the Andersons are carrying on his mission to help others and to make them feel seen – and, as Michelle says, “To be quite honest, I think the one thing everyone can all do is show kindness, and all you have to do is to say ‘hello’. Say hello, save a life…just to say hi to someone lets them know, “I see you, and I appreciate you.’”

If you, or someone you know, especially a young person, needs help, please reach out and use one of the following resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Crisis Line – 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Text “Hello” to 741-741 
  • Crisis Chat –
  • I’m Alive (Online Crisis Chat) –
  • The Trevor Project (LGBTQ specific hotline) – 1-866-488-7386

And if you’d like to help JJ’s Hello Foundation with a donation of either money or supplies for their mental health kits, head here.

One final note: Michelle shared with us that her vision for the future of the foundation is a center for children in crisis, since right now in California where they are, kids with mental health issues are put in one little part of the hospital, or are being sent to other parts of the country for help. We wish them all the luck in their endeavors, and hope you will check out the work they are doing, and help if you can. Stay well out there, listen to each other, and if you’re a parent, hug your kids extra tight – we know we will do just that. 

Co-written by Joanna Bowling

Supporting Mental Health: We’ve Come a Long Way, But We’ve Still Got a Long Way to Go

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, a time, according to the World Health Organization, “to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health.” And if it seems to you like we’ve all been thinking and talking nonstop about mental health since the start of the pandemic shifted all of our paradigms, you’re right – in a way. 2020 brought mental health issues into sharp relief as many of us struggled with loneliness, anxiety, and even depression, but we still aren’t really where we should be when it comes to supporting people in their struggles. To be honest, while things have gotten a whole lot better in the field of mental health over the past decade or so, we still have a long way to go when it comes to truly making our mental health as much a priority (and as little a taboo) as our physical health.

The Grim Statistics

When it comes to the state of mental health, and mental health care, in the United States, there’s good news and bad news, and we’re going to hit you with the bad news first. The state of mental health in America in 2021 is, well, not great: because some of the data we have for this year relies on what happened last year (the notorious 2020), we’re looking at a pretty grim picture, although mental health in the U.S. seems to have been deteriorating well before the pandemic hit. 

For example, just take a look at these stats:

graph with a red line going upward

  • In 2017-2018, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, an increase of 1.5 million people from the year before.
  • The percentage of adults in the U.S. who are experiencing serious thoughts of suicide increased 0.15% from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018  – an additional 460,000 people from the year before.
  • There is still an unmet need for mental health treatment among youth and adults: 60% of youth with major depression did not receive any mental health treatment in 2017-2018, and 23.6% of adults with a mental illness reported an unmet need for treatment in 2017-2018.

But, of course, the pandemic has made things even rougher:

  • 9.7% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% last year.
  • The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression skyrocketed in 2020: 315,220 people took a screening for anxiety, a 93% increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62% increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.
  • From April to September 2020, among people who screened with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, 70% reported that one of the top three things contributing to their mental health concerns was loneliness or and white picture of a young african american woman looking sad
  • African American screeners have had the highest average percent change over time for anxiety and depression, while Native American screeners have had the highest average percent change over time for suicidal thoughts.
  • In September 2020, over half of 11-17-year-olds reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than half or nearly every day of the previous two weeks. From January to September 2020, 77,470 youth reported experiencing frequent suicidal ideation, including 27,980 LGBTQ+ youth.
  • Over 8 in 10 people who took an anxiety screening scored with moderate to severe symptoms in September 2020. Over 8 in 10 people who took a depression screen have scored with symptoms of moderate to severe depression consistently since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
  • 37% of people reported having thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day in September 2020.

All of this can seem overwhelming to think about, but the positive thing is that we are thinking about it, and there are things that are improving when it comes to mental health in the U.S.

How We’re Improving

Now, it’s time to look at the better news – and one of the biggest pieces of good news is that this data is so readily available, and that it’s being studied, discussed, and worried about. And that brings us to our first improvement:

The term “mental health” is not so stigmatized anymore

chalkboard with stop the stigma written on it in red
Mental health has come a long way and we have learned to destigmatize it, but some work still needs to be done.

For centuries, “mental health,” or any terms related to psychological health as opposed to physical health, have only been used to talk only about severe forms of illness, or have been highly charged and stigmatized. But these days, we can talk about “mental health” as one part of our overall health, and the term is more inclusive, including anything from as simple as taking care of yourself holistically to getting treatment for anxiety or depression.

Experts agree that bringing mental health out in the open has had a positive effect: according to Dr. Mark van Ommeren, a mental health expert who works with the World Health Organization, “Years of study after study showing that [mental health] conditions are common have created a snowball effect. Media has played a positive role here, as have influential people who are starting to speak more about their mental health, which helps to reduce the stigma.”

One way we still need to improve in this regard? According to Kryss Shane, a social worker and educator, “We continue to see mental healthcare as a response to problems, rather than something recommended for everyone as a way to improve life in general. If we are able to alter this understanding, it will not only further remove stigma, it will encourage people to seek out help before they are in crisis.”

The law has made mental health equal to physical health

The first decade of the twentieth century saw some extremely important changes to the way we treat mental health on a governmental level, which has greatly improved access for a lot of people. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 both put mental health on par with physical health when it comes to what’s covered. In fact, the ACA made mental health an “essential” healthcare benefit, meaning it has to be covered by all ACA-approved plans.

With that being said, though, people who need this type of care are still not always getting access to it, and supply often outstrips demand for mental health treatment, so we do still have a ways to go in this regard.

Technology is helping 

Here’s a true twenty-first-century improvement to access to mental health care: nowadays, we have ways to speak to a professional, or take time to focus on ourselves, that we never had before thanks to technology. For example, you can hop online and speak to a mental health professional through the use of telemedicine, download an app to chat with someone in that field, or even access apps that help you to meditate and recenter yourself. 

Again according to Dr. van Ommeren, “If you think of the conventional way of how people receive mental health support it would be once a week driving to the therapist and then going home. That takes time, but with telemedicine and meditation apps, people can do it from home in little bits. This is a reason for optimism. In this way, mental health support is being made more available.” 

Dr. Don Mordecai, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s national leader for mental health, adds: “Technology will continue to evolve as a way to deliver mental health care, ranging from stand-alone skills-based apps, to coaching, to interaction with licensed professionals.”

What You Can Do for Your Mental Health

So there is reason to be positive, when we see that we are at least taking steps toward improving things, but experts tell us we still have a long way to go, and the statistics bear that out. What else do we need to be doing? According to most experts, we need to be focusing on prevention, and taking care of ourselves and those we love. According to Dr. John Krystal, MD, chair of the Psychiatry Department at Yale Medicine, “As much as possible, as we expand the health literacy of Americans, we need to make sure that we also increase their understanding of mental illness and addiction. We can do a better job of early detection and early intervention when we do a better job of looking out for ourselves, our families, our friends and our co-workers. Stigma is what develops when we view a problem like depression or addiction as something that happens to others; stigma goes away when we appreciate that mental illness and addiction could happen to us and those that we care for.” 

That means that the one thing you can do right now to get us all moving in the right direction is to take care of your own mental health! Where to start? Try:an open journal with a heart in it written on one side be you and the other side "love yourself"

  • Valuing yourself, by treating yourself with kindness and respect, and avoiding self-criticism, as well as making time for your hobbies and favorite things to do.
  • Taking care of your body, and your physical health, by eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
  • Surrounding yourself with a strong, healthy support network.
  • Volunteering your time and energy to helping others.
  • Learning how to deal with stress, and practicing good coping skills, perhaps by trying things like Tai Chi, exercise, hiking, playing with your pet, journal writing, or other relaxation techniques. Remember to also add laughter into your life, which can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body, and reduce stress.
  • Quieting your mind with meditation
  • Breaking up the monotony of life, even if it’s by making small changes.
  • Limiting your alcohol intake and recreational drug use.
  • Getting help when you need it.

When it comes down to it, physical health just seems so much more straightforward than mental health, and so much easier to get a handle on and make strides in, right? But we absolutely cannot ignore the mental health crisis we’re all facing as a society; remember, we’re all in this together, and while we have made great improvements, there is so much more we need to do – so start with you!

Battling the Loneliness Epidemic

How would you describe the past year? Crazy? Unprecedented? And how have you felt during this crazy and unprecedented year? Scared? Frustrated? Bored? Zoom-weary? How about lonely? If so, you’re not alone (no pun intended): over the past year, a “loneliness epidemic” has been brewing, with 36% of respondents in one study last year saying they felt lonely “frequently” or “almost all of the time or all the time,” as compared with 25% in the weeks before the pandemic. Another study found that 20% of people across all age groups reported feeling lonelier than usual during the pandemic.

But the truth is that the problem didn’t start with the pandemic: a 2018 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that around 22% of Americans felt “constantly” alone, and a report by the health insurance company Cigna found that 60% of Americans felt some degree of loneliness, pre-pandemic. Because feeling connected to others is vital to our emotional and physical health, it’s important to find some strategies to combat the loneliness that sometimes overwhelms many of us. 

Social Isolation vs Loneliness

Take the pandemic out of the picture, and, if you look at our society objectively, it seems like it would be difficult to feel lonely. If anything, we might be too connected for some people’s tastes! We have unlimited ways to digitally connect; we can (or will be able to again soon) hop on a plane and head anywhere in a matter of hours; more and more of us live in close quarters with neighbors all around us. Yet we still feel lonely, and that’s because there’s a difference between social isolation and loneliness.

silhouette of a brain with missing pieces all over
Loneliness has been linked to a variety of health issues like anxiety and dementia.

Social isolation is all about the amount of actual contact you have with others, while loneliness is much more subjective: it’s all about how you experience being alone or even how connected you feel to those around you. Think about it this way: just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you’re going to feel lonely, and just because there are people all around you doesn’t mean you’re not going to feel lonely. So it becomes very important to name loneliness, and to validate it; recognize that it is different from being alone, and that it is not shameful. Once you do that, you can begin to release those feelings. 

The Physical Risks of Loneliness

It’s not only important for our mental well-being to deal with our feelings of loneliness, it can also be vital to our physical health. Studies show that loneliness isn’t only linked to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and suicide, it is also linked to a variety of health problems like dementia and heart conditions. It has also been shown that people without social support have lower chances of full recovery after a serious illness than people with a strong network. In fact, the health consequences of loneliness are often compared to the effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day – and far fewer people do that than there are people who feel lonely every day!

Strategies for Coping with Loneliness

So if you’re struggling with loneliness, what can you do to help improve your emotional and physical well-being, as well as to simply get more enjoyment out of life? Therapists, doctors and researchers suggest trying some of the following strategies:

  • Look at what you’ve got – When you’re really feeling down, it can be annoying to have people tell you to look at all the good things around you. But when it comes to feeling lonely, that can be extremely important: one of the first steps to combating loneliness, other than naming it, is to examine all of the connections you already have in your life. Maybe you’re worrying that your friends aren’t telling you how they feel about you, but they might be showing it in other ways. 
notebook open with a pen on top
Talk to yourself, and write down your feelings, so you can decide how to deal with your feelings.

In other words, according to Kory Floyd, Professor of Communication and Psychology at the University of Arizona, “Many of us get tunnel vision when it comes to affection and intimacy, in that we ‘count’ only certain behaviors while discounting others…When people expand their definitions of affection and love to include a wider range of behaviors, they often discover that they aren’t as deprived as they originally thought.”

  • Talk to yourself – No, we’re not being silly here. What we mean is, when you’re feeling especially lonely, you should ask yourself questions, like what loneliness means for you. Also question whether you’re chronically lonely or lonely because of the situation you might be in at that moment in your life. Megan Bruneau, therapist and executive coach, says, “…[I]f I’m feeling loneliness more frequently than usual, I get curious about the shift. Has something changed in my relationships leading me to feel more disconnected? Have I been nurturing my current connections and creating opportunities for new ones that make me feel ‘seen’? Am I intentionally or accidentally isolating [myself]?” Look at what’s going on with you, so that you can decide how best to deal with your feelings.
  • Hit the brakes – When you think of loneliness, do you equate it with boredom? Well, the opposite might actually be the case: sometimes when you’re too busy you can get wrapped up in all of that stuff that needs to get done, and you can start to feel disconnected from the people around you. Psychiatrist Judith Orloff, MD, agrees: “Sometimes when people’s schedules are back-to-back for too long, they start disconnecting from themselves and other people. They get overwhelmed from overworking and too much stimulation. So the practice [then] is just to relax and do what their body needs.” If you find yourself overwhelmed with work and your to-do list, take a step back, slow down, and first reconnect with yourself with your favorite relaxation techniques – then you can begin to reconnect in meaningful ways with the world around you.
  • Find kindness – If the world seems cold to you, try to find ways to warm it up. Perform a random act of kindness, like paying for someone’s coffee, or even just smiling at someone or holding the door for them. Research shows that these acts release oxytocin, otherwise known as the bonding hormone, so even just a small, brief connection with another person can relieve feelings of loneliness. planet earth with different colored hands coming out from all around it Also consider getting out into your community and volunteering your time. If that’s difficult for you to do in person right now, look into virtual opportunities to give back – they could end up turning into something more in-person sooner than you think! Getting out there and doing something selfless will immediately help you feel less isolated, as will  working with others towards a shared goal.
  • Join the club(s) – Volunteering can be one way to meet new people who have similar interests; another way is to join a club, sign up for a class, or even try something completely new – like goat yoga! If this is something that interests you, start looking for groups now that you might like to join; they might have an online presence and they might be starting to meet up in person very soon!

    a dog behind a metal fence
    Adopting a pet can help you feel more fulfilled in your daily life.
  • Adopt a friendIt might sound like a cliche, but, really, a pet can be a person’s best friend, or at least a way to help fill a hole in your life. Whether it’s a playful dog to get you out of the house, a quiet cat to relax with on the couch, or any other furry or feathered creature, adopting a pet (and taking on the responsibility of caring for it) can help you feel more fulfilled in your daily life. 
  • Get creative – Even if you don’t think of yourself as the “creative” type, tapping into your creative side can help ease loneliness; in fact, you can try to embrace periods of solitude as opportunities to be more self-aware and creative. According to therapist and author Shrein Bahrami, “The experience of feeling lonely can often trigger a host of other emotions. When we are connected to our emotions, allowing ourselves to feel them and express them through creativity can be quite healing and meaningful.” Try writing, sketching, painting – even dancing to your favorite music and sitting quietly and knitting can get those juices flowing!
  • Be careful with social media – Being social can be a great antidote for loneliness – but how about using social media? Does social media cause loneliness and depression, or make it worse? Well, that’s still up for debate, but what is more important is how it affects you and how you use it in your life. For some people, social media is genuinely a way to stay connected, but for others, it can be a way to withdraw into themselves in unhelpful ways. 

When it comes to social media, first take a look at how much time you’re spending on it: according to a University of Pennsylvania study, limiting social media use to 30 minutes a day “may lead to significant improvement in well-being.” And it’s not just the amount of time you’re spending on social media that you should be examining; in fact, some researchers suggest that it’s not really how often you use it, it’s how you utilize it. Think about what you’re getting out of it and how it makes you feel. For example, using it to try to escape from the world can backfire, or scrolling through everyone else’s “curated” lives can give you serious fear of missing out (FOMO), or make you feel like you’re being purposefully not included in other people’s lives. Again according to Professor Floyd, “If we feel dissatisfied with our face-to-face relationships, we [often] retreat into the world of social media, which only exacerbates the problem. On social media, it seems as though everyone else has better jobs, better houses, better vacations, and better relationships than we do. That isn’t actually true, of course.”

Remember, if you’re feeling lonely, you’re not alone – in more ways than one! And perhaps knowing that there are others out there feeling what you’re feeling will actually help you to feel more connected to the world around you, and will tell you that it’s time to reach out. If you’re really struggling, though, please speak to a doctor, therapist, or other trusted professional. Together, we can beat the loneliness epidemic!

7 Myths About Suicide That Need to Be Debunked Now

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. So what better time to take a good, hard look at how aware we actually are about the facts surrounding the worst case scenario of mental health issues: suicide. Did you know, for example, that someone in the United States dies by suicide every 12 minutes? Or that suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S.? When you look at different age groups, that statistic is even more shocking: suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among those aged 35-54, and the second leading cause of death among those aged 10-34

When you see these statistics, it can’t help but feel like we’re failing somehow. But what can we do? Well, it comes back to awareness. One of the first steps in dealing with a problem is looking at it head on, and learning the real facts so we know how to take action. There are myths surrounding suicide that need to be debunked so we can have an open, honest discussion about it, and hopefully move towards changing the statistics. 

1. Talking about suicide will only encourage it

If you’re concerned about someone you know, and you’re worried that bringing up the topic of suicide will plant dangerous ideas in their head, don’t be! It’s understandable to be nervous about approaching the topic with them – after all, suicide can feel like a major taboo – but if you’re worried about someone, asking them outright about their feelings is probably the best thing you can do for them. Talking about suicide probably feels taboo for them, too, but bringing up the subject to them will, in a sense, give them permission to talk about their feelings and the disturbing thoughts they’re having. Encouraging them to open up could be the first and most important step in getting them help.  silhouette of a woman in a chair with another person sitting at a desk

According to Rory O’Connor, professor of Health Psychology at Glasgow University, “Evidence shows asking someone if they’re suicidal can protect them. They feel listened to, and hopefully less trapped. Their feelings are validated, and they know that somebody cares about them. Reaching out can save a life.”

2. People who talk about suicide probably don’t mean it, or are just looking for attention 

Someone who says – or even hints – that they want to take their own life should always be taken seriously. It’s possible they’re talking about suicide or their feelings of hopelessness as a way to “get attention,” but only in the sense that they are calling out for help. If someone you know talks about life not being worth living or that they have no future, listen to them, and help them get the support they need. Remember, most people who are thinking about suicide don’t actually want to die, they just don’t want to continue on living their life as it is.

3. If someone wants to take their own life, they will always find a way

Many people who are contemplating suicide are actually torn between their desire to live and their desire to end their suffering. It’s simply not true that it’s useless to reach out to them; it’s also not true that reducing their access to means to harm themselves won’t help. Making it harder to access a weapon or drugs can actually help delay or stop their attempt, and ultimately save their life. 

4. People usually commit suicide suddenly, and without warning

While suicide can take many loved ones by surprise, it’s simply not true that it usually comes completely out of the blue. Most people who are considering suicide will exhibit certain behaviors (or say certain things) that point to their state of mind. It can fall on loved ones, though, to recognize these warning signs and take action. These warning signs can include:

caucasian woman with her hands up by her head with an angry look on her face
Dramatic mood swings and reckless behavior are warning signs of people who are contemplating suicide.
  • Beginning to say things like “I wish I wasn’t here,” or “Nothing matters”
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

The following signs are an indication of an emergency situation, and should be acted on immediately:

  • Collecting and saving pills or purchasing a weapon
  • Giving away possessions
  • Tying up loose ends, like paying off debts
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones

5. When someone is suicidal, they will always be suicidal

Thinking about suicide, or making suicidal attempts is not necessarily a long-term issue. Suicidal ideation, as it is called, is usually short-term and specific to a certain situation or time in a person’s life. In fact, studies have shown that approximately 54% of people who have taken their own lives did not have a diagnosable mental health disorder. And for those with mental illness, the proper treatment can help to reduce symptoms. Many people who have thought about suicide or attempted it can go on to live long, successful lives – again, it is never useless to reach out to someone who is suffering and at risk.

One thing to be aware of, though: many people will attempt suicide more than once, and they can be particularly at risk directly after recovery from an attempt, so make sure they have the support they need.

6. Only those who are seriously mentally ill consider suicide, or go through with it

caucasian hand laying on the floor with pills in it and on the floor
About 54% of people who have died by suicide did not have a diagnosed mental health condition.

The above statistic is worth repeating: approximately 54% of people who have died by suicide did not have a diagnosed mental health condition. Consider this statistic, as well: 1 in 5 people have thought about suicide at one point in their life. 

Just as not all people with mental health issues will think about suicide, not all people who attempt it are considered mentally ill. Some might be struggling with mental health issues, but their condition is unknown to others. In addition, relationship problems and other stressful life situations, such as criminal/legal matters, bullying, eviction or loss of home, death of a loved one, a devastating or debilitating illness, trauma, sexual abuse, rejection, or recent crises are also associated with suicidal thoughts and attempts.

7. Someone who “has it together” isn’t at risk of committing suicide

Looks can be deceiving. On the outside, it can seem like someone has it all: a loving family, a nice home, a good job – but no one can ever really know what is going on on the inside. The take-away this National Mental Health Awareness Month – and always – is that no one is immune to mental health challenges. That’s why it’s so important to check in with your loved ones and keep an open dialogue. If you see someone exhibiting any warning signs, or struggling in some way, don’t brush it off – reach out. And if you see any of these myths being perpetuated, speak out. young caucasian womans head looking down with her hands over her facePlease remember this: suicide is preventable. Mental health issues and crises are treatable. If you or someone you know is at risk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential support 24/7, text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7, or call 911 in case of an emergency situation. 

Remember also: while those hotlines are excellent resources, and you should always make use of them if you or someone you know needs help, it might not be enough to simply give one of these numbers to a person in crisis. Talking to them is the first step, and making sure they reach out for help is important. Ask how you can help, and contact their mental health professional or drive them to the ER if that is what they need. Anyone can be part of the solution by knowing the real facts, and by being ready to talk about this difficult subject.