Two new studies lay out the extent to which mental health support is vital for any society. Belgian health observatory BELHEALTH has just released a new study with over 7,000 participants, analyzing the state of mental health in the country.
19 percent of adults showed symptoms of anxiety, and 17 percent had signs of depression. People aged 18-29 were more likely to have a positive score for generalized anxiety (30%) than people aged 50-64 (16%) and 65+ (11%). Women were more likely to have anxiety symptoms (23%) than men (15%).
People with secondary education or less were more likely to show symptoms of anxiety (21%) than those with higher education (16%). People living in relationships with or without children reported less anxiety (16% and 15%) than those living alone with or without children (29% and 21%).
People in paid employment were less likely to have a positive score for generalized anxiety (17%) than people who were unemployed (33%) or on disability (40%).
A majority of respondents have said that the two most significant crises, the war in Ukraine (56%) and the energy crisis (70%), were reasons for them to experience increased anxiety.
In the UK, the National Audit Office (NAO) released a press release that claims that despite an increase in funding and in general awareness, “millions of people with mental health needs are still not accessing services, with some facing lengthy waits for treatment.
” It underlines this lack of support concretely by saying that during April-June 2022, just 68% of young people who were urgently referred were seen within a week, against a standard of 95%.”
More needs to be done to address the effects that poly-crises have on mental health. More than just creating awareness, we need to make sure we support our peers in times of hardship. This can mean that we extend affirming words to friends or family who are affected, making it clear that we tell them that it’s ok not to be ok.
It’s crucial that we don’t stigmatize people who aren’t well, that we empathize with the fears that have led them to their state of mind, and that we help them cope with fear and anxiety as it arises. One of the practical coping approaches is the creation of a coping toolbox. Mental health expert Alysha Tagert has outlined this:
“One step I often suggest is for the young person to assemble a coping toolbox, which is an actual container filled with items that can help them soothe themselves in a time of panic or anxiety so they can practice mindfulness.”
These self-compiled toolboxes can contain everything from sugar-free chewing gum (the act of chewing relaxes while improving focus while engaging all the senses), a book or a puzzle to be completed, a stress ball or fidget spinner to keep hands and mind occupied, or something visually soothing such as an hourglass or even an eye mask to block everything out so they can concentrate on their calming efforts.
These toolboxes can have very positive effects as anxiety arises in people. That of course does not make conversations redundant; in fact, it is essential that these aspects of mental health support exist in tandem.
Most of us are not mental health professionals who can solve problems the way an expert can address them – but especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has increased our awareness of this issue, we need to be ready to do more to support our peers.
Bill Wirtz is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Consumer Choice Center.