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Has COVID-19 made us more open to talking about mental health?

Uncertainty and stress from COVID-19 is doing more than just disrupting our lives. It’s changing beliefs too.

And in a way that could lead to better mental health for all.

A new survey conducted by The Harris Poll found a little more than half of Americans are increasingly open to talking about mental health, since the pandemic.

And 78% feel that mental health is equally important to physical health, even though they recognize that the two are not treated equally in our healthcare system. (More than 51% said physical health is treated as more important than mental health now.)

Over 2,000 U.S. adults ages 18 and older were surveyed in July about their attitudes around suicide prevention and mental health. The survey was done on behalf of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, and Education Development Center.

Findings show Americans are more aware of the need for suicide prevention action and believe more suicides can be prevented. They are also willing to take action when faced with someone who needs help, but need help and training to do so.

While 95% of those surveyed said they would do something if someone close to them was thinking about suicide, most (69%) identified barriers that keep them from discussing suicide with others, such as not knowing what to say (31%), feeling they don’t have enough knowledge (28%), or not feeling comfortable with the topic (19%).

Overall, survey results show that 81% say that, as a result of the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to make suicide prevention a national priority.

Based on survey results, AFSP chief medical officer, Dr. Christine Moutier, suggested that through the COVID-19 pandemic, people are growing stronger in their understanding of mental health and are more supportive of each other.

“The next step we must take is to make sure that when they try to access mental health care, they are able to find effective, culturally competent, affordable care,” she said.

According to the Action Alliance, some helpful ways people can be there for someone who maybe struggling or in crisis include:

Recognizing the risk factors and warning signs;

Learning the action steps for talking with someone who might be suicidal;

Staying socially connected to family, friends, and loved ones; and,

Sharing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-TALK), which provides 24/7, free, and confidential support or the Crisis Text Line (text TALK to 741741).

Additional survey findings include:

Most Americans (73%) said they are more aware of the importance of taking care of their own mental health during the pandemic, with many relying on positive coping mechanisms.

If they were having thoughts of suicide, most Americans (73%) would tell someone, and people select different sources of support including:

  • Mental health provider (34%)

  • Family member (33%)

  • Spouse/significant other (32%)

  • Friend (30%)

  • Primary care doctor (25%)

  • Hotline/Crisis line (21%)

  • Clergy/Faith leader (14%)

  • Social media network (7%)

  • Coworker (5%)

Technology plays an important role in Americans accessing mental health care:

  • 25% have worked with their mental health professional through telehealth,

  • 20% have used mental health apps, and,

  • 19% have engaged with another provider through telehealth.

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