PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — One in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, and an estimated 178,000 Rhode Island adults have a mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization “dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness,” its website states.
“I have a sinking feeling too, that those numbers are likely underreported,” Lamarre said, noting the figures are coming from those who are self-reporting mental illness.
“Very oftentimes, people don’t report or speak about the mental health struggles that they are experiencing, due to stigma. So, that number could be quite higher,” she added.
Lamarre said the newest fact sheet with data on mental health in Rhode Island will be available in the coming weeks.
NAMI and its local chapters are promoting that May is Mental Health Awareness Month in an effort to “fight stigma, raise awareness and advocate for a better mental health care system.”
Lamarre said this year’s theme is: “Mental health is for everyone, invest in Rhode Islanders.”
“That alludes to the state of Rhode Island to spend money on building pieces of the mental health care system from community through hospital levels so people can access those services,” Lamarre explained.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic is shifting into an endemic, NAMI says the effects it has had on mental health are proving “severe and long-lasting,” and younger people and marginalized populations are feeling the effects in particular.
According to a recent survey conducted by NAMI, 52% of respondents have been more open about their mental health since the pandemic began.
“I think that the pandemic has led people to express their feelings about their mental health a little bit more openly, because it’s become so widely experienced,” Lamarre said. “Even if it’s situational, a lot of people have gone through anxiety and depression due to circumstances around the pandemic, and it’s sort of normalized the conversation a little bit more.”
An Aug. 2020 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed more adults were struggling with mental health issues in 2020 (nearly 2 in 5 adults), compared to about 1 in 5 prior to the pandemic.
Despite rising numbers, only about 46% of adults with mental illness received treatment in 2020, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Fewer Black, Hispanic/Latinx and Asian Americans received treatment, however.
Of the 61,000 adults in Rhode Island who did not receive needed mental health care, 32.8% did not because of cost, according to NAMI.
“Across the country, there are a lot of places where we could be doing a better job of reimbursing providers for services, which would mean that they would therefore take insurances that they may not be taking now, making it more accessible for people to get those services,” Lamarre explained.
Lamarre said even if people are waiting for the services they need, there are still free resources like NAMI RI’s Support Groups & Social Hours. The groups are peer-led and for people or family experiencing mental health conditions themselves, or supporting someone with a mental health condition.
The local organization is also hosting its Bridging the Gaps Annual Conference virtually on May 25 to discuss the issues among advocates, family, friends, mental health professionals and more.
In 2020, 75% of people ages 18-24 reported at least one mental health or substance use concern, according to NAMI.
Last month, the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (RIAAP) and the Rhode Island Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (RICCAP) declared a state of emergency for child and adolescent mental health.
The rate of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020, according to health professionals, and suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 by 2018.
According to the 2019 Rhode Island Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 15% of Rhode Island high school students reported attempting suicide one or more times in the 12 months before the survey was administered.
Between 2020 and 2021, calls to the NAMI HelpLine (1-800-950-NAMI, or 6264) about depression and anxiety increased by 80%, while calls about suicide increased by 185% and calls about mental health crises increased by 251%. Overall, the number of people the HelpLine assisted increased 79% from 2019 to 2021.
As a result, NAMI has extended its HelpLine hours twice in 2021 alone, now operating from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and also added a new live chat feature.
Over the weekend, Naomi Judd of the Grammy-winning duo The Judds died at age 76.
“We lost our beautiful mother to the disease of mental illness,” a statement from her daughters said. “We are shattered. We are navigating profound grief and know that as we loved her, she was loved by her public. We are in unknown territory.”
While the statement didn’t elaborate on her condition, Judd was open in the past about her struggles with depression and anxiety.
“I think it’s good when we hear that someone who we think of as having everything ‘together’ talks about having mental health struggles themselves, because it makes it clearer and more relatable that this can happen to anyone and everyone, and it does happen to people of all ages and all walks of life,” Lamarre said.
When celebrities or well-known figures in the community open up about mental health, Lamarre said it can encourage others to do the same and seek help.
“Unfortunately, if we lose someone of mental illness, it makes people think, ‘Oh wow, I can’t believe that even that person,’ who they may think of as a positive role model, might have been struggling with something they didn’t talk about,” Lamarre said.
“Maybe that will lead people to think, ‘I don’t want that to happen to me or to my loved one, and I should do something,'” she added.