Tag Archives: mental health

Suicide epidemic driven by despair’s partner — loneliness

Contemporary America’s main problem has been defined by many as “addiction”: addiction to technology, to pain medication, or to the freedom of non-commitment. But these are only symptoms of a deeper root-cause.

The perils of misdiagnosis afflict many patients. An elderly gentleman comes in with stomach pain, only to be sent home with antacid medication and advice to avoid certain foods. After three months of persistent pain, weight loss, and fatigue, he is diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. For this gentleman, and for America, focusing on symptoms over root-cause can prove deadly.

Since the turn of the century, Americans have been suffering “Deaths of Despair” at an unprecedented rate. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for American teenagers and the tenth leading cause of death for Americans overall. Equally harrowing, drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of fifty.

While the statistics are daunting, the reality is devastating. In every age group, and across every geographic region, mothers are finding themselves childless, husbands are suddenly without a wife, and sisters are left without a brother. Americans are having less sex and fewer children (historically, signs of diminished hope), anger defines politics, and a silent feeling of dissatisfaction permeates American life. Although Americans are materially prosperous, our psychological and spiritual lives are in freefall.

The diagnosis: loneliness.

Just last week a young woman who intentionally severed her airway and spinal cord with an 8-inch kitchen knife saw me in the emergency room. She cited the isolation associated with caring for her ill grandmother, and the paucity of individuals with whom she could meaningfully discuss such challenges, as the drivers of her despair. Unfortunately, patients like her are far too common. Loneliness, like hers, is defined by an absence of meaningful relationships that now plagues 40% of all Americans.

What caused this loneliness? The answer is not as simple as “blame social media.” Technology is both symptom and cause — much like changes in religious participation, family structure, and the economy. The unifying theme, however, is that we no longer live in community.

Compared to 25 years ago, Americans spend half as much time at the dinner table and don’t invite neighbors over nearly as often. Participation in community organizations has plummeted. The resulting lack of connection and “social capital” is proving fatal.

The solution: be present.

Close your computer and engage your colleague while waiting for a meeting to start. Re-define “FaceTime” by opting for a shared coffee over a phone call. Check in on the widow down the street. Acknowledge the power, and importance, of civic involvement. Recognize the sacred space of the home by designating “tech-free” spaces. Reclaim the dinner table. In short, cultivate the virtues of selflessness and sacrifice

This unique American moment asks not for a call to arms, but for a call to neighborliness.

FRANCIE HART BROGHAMMER, MD is the chief psychiatry resident at UC Irvine Medical Center, doing clinical work and research examining the social, relational, and spiritual determinants of mental health. In addition to speaking nationwide on these topics, she serves as an American Psychiatric Association Leadership Fellow and is a member of the UC Irvine Medical Ethics Committee. Francie can be reached atfbrogham@uci.edu.

Conversation starters on mental health

There is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to mental health. Healthnetwork Foundation addresses each family’s needs and questions with utmost confidentiality and compassion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates as much as 25% of the American population has some form of mental illness.

While many of us are open with our friends about our physical health, talking about mental health isn’t as easy. There is fear of embarrassment, being judged or stigmatized, and it may be difficult to find words to describe how they’re feeling. About 20% of teens meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder. Like adults, these teens are often afraid to talk about it. Some attempt suicide as a means of escaping mental illness symptoms. The most important thing parents or grandparents can do is encourage them to talk to you about the problem. Here are a few tips to help begin a productive discussion.

Open the line of communication with: “I’m worried about you.” “You don’t seem like yourself lately. What’s going on?” Ask them to let you help: “Can we talk about how we can make this better?” “Would you like me to help you make an appointment so you can talk with someone?” Above all, listen to their answers.

Emphasize that talking with you is a safe environment to discuss any issues respectfully and without judgment. Together, determine what steps need to be taken to get help. Here are some sample action plans:

Depression. Determine if they have suicidal thoughts or plan to hurt themselves. If so, take them to the nearest emergency room. If they express homicidal ideation, take them immediately to ER. Legally, the person being threatened must be warned about the threat. If they are suicidal or homicidal and refuse to go to the ER, call 911. If they’re depressed, but not suicidal, get them to a physician ASAP. Primary care physicians can be a great first step if they’re unable to see a psychiatrist right away. Make sure that they’re not alone. If they live alone, have someone stay with him/her.

Manic. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of mania (unusually high energy and mood accompanied by at least three of the following symptoms): Needing less sleep in order to feel rested, talking rapidly or excessively, distractibility, tendency to show poor judgment, inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, reckless behaviors. If you determine that they are manic, seek medical help ASAP. They may need hospitalization.

Substance abuse. Determine if the individual is willing to seek help. If yes, have a professional determine what level of care is appropriate. Their primary care physician or a psychiatrist can help determine the next steps. Healthnetwork may also be able to assist with referrals. If they’re unwilling, consider staging an “intervention” under professional guidance where close friends and family confront the individual.

Forbes recently reported that the effects of mental illness in the U.S. cost nearly $210.5 billion a year in lost productivity and direct costs, with an estimated 19 million Americans afflicted with clinical depression. Mental diseases are real, diagnosable and often treatable. The first step to recovery is often asking, “How can I help you?” Fortunately, Legatus members have Healthnetwork as a partner to help find the right resources.

SUSAN LOCKE, MD is Healthnetwork Foundation’s medical director.

HEALTHNETWORK is a Legatus membership benefit, a healthcare “concierge service” that provides members and their families access to some of the most respected hospitals in the world. One Call Starts It All: (866) 968-2467 or (440) 893-0830. Email: help@healthnetworkfoundation.org

HEALTHNETWORK FOUNDATION is a non-profit whose mission is to improve medicine for all by connecting CEOs with leading hospitals and their doctors to provide the best access to world-class care and increase philanthropic funding for medical research.