Opinion | ‘A Sad State of Affairs’ for Mental Health in America

Via Peters

To the Editor:

“We Surveyed 1,320 Therapists Across the Nation. They’re Worried About Mental Health in the U.S.” (news article, Jan. 3):

Psychiatrists were not included in this Times survey, sent by Psychology Today to its professional members, but there were references to my field that illustrate a sad state of affairs.

A quarter of those polled said suicidal thoughts were among the leading reasons patients sought help. Sixty percent said more patients wanted medication. One clinical social worker noted that a person who was suicidal and depressed had to wait three months to see a psychiatrist for medication. That waiting time was not just for psychiatrists: Nearly a third of the therapists surveyed said it could take at least three months to get an appointment with them, if at all.

If a person is severely depressed and suicidal, a professional should evaluate them immediately. I know from being a hospital psychiatrist throughout my career that this evaluation can be accomplished in an emergency room.

The problem is that the necessary, close follow-up care is not accessible to most who cannot pay out of pocket. It is often difficult to find those who will accept fees paid by insurance. As a society, we have to examine our priorities for how money is allocated, and whether mental health is worth the financial investment.

Jeffrey B. Freedman
New York

To the Editor:

It’s about time this survey was conducted. I’ve been hitting my head against the wall in frustration since Covid began, trying to get national coverage of our mental health crisis.

Now, let’s take needed actions or we will face worsening incidences of PTSD. As the article stated, medical workers are already suffering. We will also see increases in mass shootings, uncontrolled anger against airline stewards, domestic abuse, substance abuse and suicides.

Here are some things we can do:

Broadcast and print media: Offer continual mental health reports. Post the 800 number for crisis and suicide hotlines everywhere, along with symptoms of acute stress. Warn about deadly pills through social media.

Schools: Talk to students about stress, depression and suicidal ideation. Add needed counselors.

Community, state and federal governments: Determine needs of vulnerable populations and how to respond immediately. Find additional therapists and psychiatric ward availability. Demand insurance parity.

Most important: End the stigma. Finally put mental and physical health on equal footing.

Sharon L. Cohen
Newtown, Conn.
The writer is the co-author of “Disaster Mental Health Community Planning.”

To the Editor:

Surviving the pandemic has proved to be a lot easier for me than surviving the relentless demands of home care for my wife, who recently died after eight years with Alzheimer’s. I hope you conduct a similar survey of the mental health costs of home care for those with dementia, especially as millions of baby boomers soon begin to turn 80.

Our mental health system may be in crisis right now, but an even bigger and more enduring mental health crisis may lie right around the corner.

Jerome T. Murphy
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

As a social work clinician, educator and board member of the International Association for Social Work With Groups, I have been very concerned about the social and emotional impact of the pandemic on people of all ages and backgrounds. Social isolation plays a key role in the sharp rise in mental health problems described in this article.

An individual therapist can do much, but is unable to provide the sense of belonging that a group can offer. In social work practice with groups, the experience of mutual aid promotes connection, increases self-esteem and lessens isolation for its members. Since the start of the pandemic, groups have been meeting safely and effectively online.

Using group methods can serve more people, decrease waiting lists and lessen pressure on individual therapists. We need to provide opportunities for clients to join groups that can counter the terrible isolation of so many.

Ann M. Bergart

I have still not seen graphic ads on TV that show real doctors and nurses hovering over a gagging patient as they try to intubate him; a woman gasping for breath in an I.C.U. while she cries that she wishes she had gotten a vaccine; bodies piling up in a truck being used as a morgue; or an elderly parent devastated that her unvaccinated adult son died while she only had a runny nose because she was vaccinated.

We show reckless drivers startling videos of fatal car accident victims in defensive driving courses. Why have we not asked our talented experts on Madison Avenue to produce a graphic and searing advertising campaign that pulls no punches?

Robert Gordon
Scottsdale, Ariz.

To the Editor:

Asked about her refusal to get the Covid vaccine, Cyrarra Bricker, a 26-year-old Texan, tells a reporter, “The nail in the coffin was when they said you had to get the vaccine.”

A word of advice to Ms. Bricker: Next time, you might want to choose your idioms more carefully.

Mark Remy
Portland, Ore.

To the Editor:

Re “We Need to Listen to Archbishop Tutu About Forgiveness” (Opinion, Dec. 30):

I agree with Michael Eric Dyson about the power of forgiveness and restorative justice. I was in awe of the Rev. Anthony Thompson and other family members of victims for forgiving Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people at a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015. However, I think that kind of personal forgiveness is possible only when there is a fair and reasonable justice system.

While I understand Mr. Dyson’s point, it is important that all bad actors be held accountable for their actions. Too frequently we have held individual poor people accountable for small crimes like petty theft with harsh penalties like jail time, while allowing the powerful to escape any consequences for their actions. The Times’s series on police traffic stops that result in motorists’ deaths, for example, was extremely eye-opening.

Let’s strive for accountability first, working from the top down.

Cathy Petter
Stow, Mass.

To the Editor:

Michael Eric Dyson eloquently makes the case for restorative justice. The object of that practice, in part, is to create, as Martin Buber put it, an I-Thou experience. People are far less likely to harm one another if they have “met” them in a deep and meaningful way.

One aspect of cancel culture is the determination to silence voices that say things that seem incorrect or hostile, but the need for the sharing of differences of opinion has never been greater.

Daryl Davis, a Black musician who has persuaded members of the Ku Klux Klan to give up their robes through his efforts at mutual understanding, always starts with “How can you hate me if you don’t even know me?”

Gilbert Bliss
Freeland, Md.

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