October 13, 2017 – [Article link]
Like many of you, I woke on the morning of Oct. 2 to the tragic news of the Las Vegas massacre. My heart sank as I absorbed the details.
My 20-year-old son called in tears; he had two friends who were injured during the melee.
At the office, I found clients dealing with sorrow, shock and grief and helped them process their pain. Some were directly affected by the shootings; others were simply frightened by the recent increases in violence.
I spoke to my son throughout the day, and thankfully his friends are going to be fine.
But the closeness of this event was uncomfortable, and the intense fear and anxiety I encountered among my clients got me thinking. Why did this happen, and how can we avoid a continued escalation of these horrific events?
That evening, I took to social media. In response to the shooting, there were many articles and posts about gun control, as you would expect. We do need stronger gun control laws, and that’s a debate that needs to be tackled. But there was nothing about the need to increase access to mental health care and treatment.
We need to address the primary problem; no mentally fit person chooses to massacre his fellow citizens. We must identify why mental health conditions are worsening, and as mental health professionals, formulate a course of action.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, approximately one in five American adults has a mental health condition; one in every 25 has a severe mental disorder. And the rate of depression among young people has been rising sharply, from 8.5 percent in 2014 to 11.1 percent in 2017.
Over that same period of time, the number of internet users worldwide skyrocketed, from 2.48 billion to 3.77 billion. It has been widely acknowledged that the increasing use of technology is negatively affecting mental health.
Studies conducted at Duke University in May 2017 showed that increased use of technology is linked to problems with self-regulation, attention and behavior. In 2014, the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavioral, and Social Networking reported that researchers found online social networking to be closely associated with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
Psychologist Larry Rosen, a professor at California State University Dominguez Hills, says that many people today can be diagnosed with what he calls “iDisorder.” He wrote a book by that name, and he defines iDisorder in this way: “When you exhibit signs and symptoms of a psychiatric disorder such as OCD, narcissism, addiction, or ADHD, which are manifested through your use — or overuse of technology.”
Interviewed for a 2014 New York Post article, Stephanie Brown, a pyschologist and author of “Speed,” came to similar conclusions. She points out that our fast-paced, technologically driven society makes us overstimulated, over-scheduled and impulsive, which can lead to chronic stress, mood swings and behavioral disorders.
To deal with this rise in mental health challenges, more people need to have ready access to good mental health care. Insurance companies need to pay clinicians higher fees, so they can sustain themselves as network providers. The hourly rate of pay to network clinicians in the Bay Area ranges from $50-$80. If a clinician takes insurance, they have to carry a large caseload to earn a decent salary.
And regardless of the dedication of the clinician, the larger the caseload, the less thorough the level of care. It’s simple math: Clinicians who see large volumes of clients will not always be emotionally capable of providing the best care.
Every routine medical checkup should include a mental health screening. A mental health assessment can provide information that helps clinicians deal with problems early, rather than allowing them to fester. Those who don’t have insurance and can’t pay out of pocket need to be guaranteed access to mental health care.
Even here in the Bay Area, we have very few free facilities, and they are typically not accessible to the general public.
These may seem like costly measures, and they are. But we are talking about the mental health of our citizenry. And the events of the past week have made it clear: there is no higher priority than that.
Karen Hamilton is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Marin County.