CHUCK NORRIS: Will We Ever Get Our Heads on Straight?

Citing conditions such as prolonged isolation and loss from the pandemic, as well as other stressors like inflation and rising crime, a panel of medical experts last week made an unprecedented recommendation. They are calling on doctors to screen “all adult patients under 65 for anxiety.” Writes New York Times’ Emily Baumgaertner, the action is intended to “help prevent mental health disorders from going undetected and untreated for years or even decades.”

“It made a similar recommendation for children and teenagers earlier this year,” she adds.

The recommendations come at a time of “critical need,” says Lori Pbert, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, who serves on the task force. “(Mental health) is a crisis in this country,” she says. “Our only hope is that our recommendations throw a spotlight on the need to create greater access to mental health care — and urgently.”

According to one study cited by the task force, “From August 2020 to February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased to 41.5 percent from 36.4 percent.”

“Rising mental health issues are not unique to the United States,” reports the Times. “Anxiety and depression increased by 25 percent globally during the first year of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization, and has only partially improved since … About a quarter of men and about 40 percent of women in the United States face an anxiety disorder in their lifetimes.” According to their findings, “women have nearly double the risk of depression compared with men.”

It is pointed out that the guidance was issued “in draft form.” In the coming months, it will undergo public review and comment. It appears that not all clinicians are on board. Many stress that the recommendations come at a time when the country is “short on mental health resources on all levels — psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists.” Some emphasized that screening programs are useful only if they lead patients to effective solutions. Some worry that implementation could lead to an overprescription problem.

“Why do young people today seem so miserable?” is the premise recently suggested by Tyler VanderWeele, professor of epidemiology in the Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and director of the Human Flourishing Program, in an interview with the Harvard Gazette.

“Twenty years ago, life satisfaction surveys of those 18 and older showed the highest readings among America’s younger and older adults, with those in between struggling with jobs, families, and other cares of middle life. Now, a Harvard-led study examining a dozen measures of well-being show younger adults tallying the lowest scores of any age group; they tally lowest life-satisfaction scores among all age groups of those 18 and older.

“We’ve neglected broader questions of well-being and flourishing,” says VanderWeele. Let alone having a sense of happiness and a sense of meaning and purpose.

I have written about similar concerns several times over the past couple of years. The examples are everywhere that the pandemic has escalated the damage to our mental health. In October 2021, I wrote about the nation’s leading pediatric groups calling the state of children’s mental health a crisis and a “national emergency.” In June 2021, I reported on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Census Bureau study that found a disturbing increase in the numbers of adults with spiking anxiety and depression during the pandemic. According to the findings of a 2021 USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans believed it to be true. The study results reflect a survey of 1,000 registered voters taken by cellphone and landline from Dec. 27-30.

The USA Today report also noted that, in 2021, “more people around the world Googled ‘how to maintain mental health’ than ever before.” Reports Google, “queries surged nearly 70% between April and May (of that year).”

Jared Skillings is chief of professional practice for the American Psychological Association. He stated back then that he believed that the poll verifies that mental health is “no longer just a discussion among academics or in elite policy circles.” He went on to say that he hoped news reports would spark widespread concern to “go beyond the short-term fixes.”

“Feel the flow” is a term I was not familiar with until I started researching this piece. Richard Huskey is an assistant professor of communication and cognitive Science at the University of California, Davis, and an expert on the subject. In a December 2021 post on The Conversation, on the dawning of the new year, he underscored the importance of resolving to “feeling more flow.”

“A recent study … shows that flow helps people stay resilient in the face of adversity,” he writes. “Part of this is because flow can help refocus thoughts away from something stressful to something enjoyable. In fact, studies have shown that experiencing flow can help guard against depression and burnout.”

“Researchers have gained a vast store of knowledge about what it is like to be in flow,” said Huskey. “When people feel flow, they are in a state of intense concentration. Their thoughts are focused on an experience rather than on themselves. They lose a sense of time and feel as if there is a merging of their actions and their awareness. That they have control over the situation.”

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