Protecting Mental Health Will Continue To Take Priority In 2021

We’re not going to sugarcoat it: 2020 was a challenging year for mental and emotional well-being. 

“Mental health is the silent pandemic that is also happening right now,” says Uma Naidoo, M.D., nutritional psychiatrist, chef, nutrition expert, and author of This Is Your Brain On Food. “With lockdowns, quarantine, physical distancing, and ongoing uncertainty—loneliness is at it’s pique for many. The individuals who are thriving are few and far between, as the majority of individuals are lonely and isolated with limited supports.” 

Renowned clinical neuroscientist psychiatrist Daniel Amen, M.D., calls this intersection of mental health and COVID-19 ‘pandemic squared’, which refers to the way COVID has been multiplied by a subsequent pandemic of psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addiction. 

Data supports these observations, too. A survey in JAMA, which included 1,441 respondents from during COVID-19 and 5,065 respondents from before the pandemic, found the prevalence of depression symptoms was three times higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than before. What’s even more devastating, in August of this year, the CDC released data that among the 5,412 adults they surveyed, more than 10% said they seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days (compared to 4.3% in 2018). 

We would also be remiss not to mention the significant toll this year has taken on the BIPOC community. As Eudene Harry, M.D. wrote for mindbodygreen in October, BIPOC individuals already face racism-related vigilance, “the adverse stress response that comes from living with the constant expectation of experiencing racial discrimination in your daily life.” With the added weight of a pandemic that has disproportionately affected BIPOC, and a push for justice against police brutality and systemic racism—2020 has been trying, to say the least.

While the data from 2020 can seem discouraging, it was also a year of turning inward, with more people becoming proactive about their mental health. “2020 has taught us that instead of sticking metaphorical bandaids on things, escaping from symptoms, or simply chasing temporary relief, we have to look at the source and redesign a life,” Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, a psychologist and executive coach. In fact, according to a report published by Mental Health America, the amount of people seeking help for mental health has drastically increased this year: 93% more people took their anxiety self-screening test and accessed immediate resources from their website this year, compared to 2019.

Roxanna Namavar, D.O., psychiatrist and integrative medicine practitioner says she’s similarly noticed her patients paying more attention to what’s happening in their bodies, along with seeking ways to take better care of their physical and mental health. “There’s been a lot of slowing down and figuring out what they really need,” she says. “I’ve noticed more awareness of the present moment, and I think that’s going to continue from a mental health perspective.”

Companies and startups are also working to keep up with the demand for more accessible mental healthcare. In fact, venture capital funding of U.S. mental health startups totaled $1.37 billion through the third quarter of 2020, which outpaced the $1.06 billion in 2019, according to PitchBook data. The meditation app Calm, for example, raised $75 million, and the company is now valued at $2 billion. While the first mental health gym, Coa, is supported by several notable angel investors, including professional basketball player and mental health advocate Kevin Love, who recently spoke about mental health challenges on mindbodygreen’s podcast. “The first thing is realizing that it’s normal to feel this way,” Love told mbg. “It can be tough to realize so many people are suffering and going through a lot of pain, but on the other side, it’s really powerful knowing you’re not alone or isolated.”

With the heightened awareness around mental health, its important connection to physical health, and vice versa—we’re confident mental well-being will continue to take priority in 2021. We’ve already seen some significant upticks in mental health services and priorities to accommodate these tumultuous times, and here’s how we predict mental healthcare will continue to grow and evolve as we head into the New Year: 

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