Mental Health Challenges in Today's Environment



May is #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth

In addition to my role as a consultant for nonprofit and public sector organizations, I am also a mental health professional. I’ve been a licensed clinical social worker for over twenty years. I served as the deputy director of a community mental health authority, and I occasionally see clients in my private practice.

Many mental health clinical professionals have experienced a noticeable increase in demand for their services in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. During the past two years, I have been contacted by individuals, couples, and families seeking assistance in coping with personal challenges caused or exacerbated by today’s increasingly stressful climate. I’ve had the honor of serving people who likely would never have reached out in previous times.

  • The World Health Organization reports that the pandemic has increased the global prevalence of anxiety and depression by 25 percent.
  • About 22% of adults in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness. 
  • Nearly 46% of LGBTQ individuals in the U.S. experience some form of mental illness.

Perhaps most troubling is the adverse impact on teens and young adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people who are 18-25 years of age have the highest prevalence of mental illness at 27% as compared to only 14% prevalence among persons aged 50 and older. Moreover, the impact of social media on the mental health of young people has been verified. A recent 3-year study has revealed that Instagram (owned by Facebook) is the most harmful social media platform for teen mental health. The study reveals that frequent use of Instagram by children and adolescents is central contributor to mental illness, particularly in teenage girls. Repeated use of the photo-sharing app may lead to body image and self-esteem difficulties and even suicidal thoughts. In response to the research findings, Facebook has suspended development of its Instagram Kids project.

Although many people point to the COVID-19 pandemic as the central cause of the rise in mental health challenges, the reality is that behavioral health issues have been increasing in prevalence for many years. In the U.S., the national rate of suicide has increased by 35% since 1999. Furthermore, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34.

The terms mental health, mental illness, or behavioral health can encompass a broad spectrum of conditions ranging from mild to severely debilitating and even life-threatening. The realities of the current social, political, and economic environment have impacted everyone. Even if you have not personally experienced physical illness, personal loss, or financial instability, you may be inadvertently affected by the increased strain, pressure and “background noise” in our complex society. Although a broad range of behavioral conditions exist, most mental illness experienced by the general population can be grouped into three categories: depression, anxiety, and substance use.


▪ Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in routine activities. Depression isn’t just “the blues” and affected individuals can’t just “snap out of it.” Symptoms my include feelings of emptiness and hopelessness; anger and irritability; sleep disturbances; appetite changes; problems with memory or concentration; and possible thoughts of self-harm.

▪ Clinical depression may require professional treatment involving psychotherapy or even medication. The good news is that in addition to advanced therapeutic techniques, there are many modern medications that have proven to be highly successful in treating moderate to severe depression.


▪ Anxiety or generalized anxiety disorder involves excessive worrying or panic that is difficult to control, and which may interfere with normal activities. Symptoms can include excessive focus on minor issues; indecisiveness; difficulty concentrating; inability to relax; and physical manifestations such as fatigue, sleeplessness, body aches, or nausea.

▪ Like depression, generalized anxiety disorder can be successfully treated and managed with advanced psychotherapy and medications.

Substance Use Disorder

▪ Addiction or substance use disorder is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior leading to the inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication. Over time, the affected individual may require larger doses of the substance to feel the same effect. Eventually, the individual may find it difficult to function without using the drug. Symptoms may include: (1) intense urges to use the drug; (2) spending excessive amounts of money on the drug; (3) not meeting personal or professional obligations; (4) engaging in excessive activities to obtain the drug; and (5) engaging in risky behaviors when under the influence of the drug.

▪ Substance use disorder can be successfully treated and managed with a combination of inpatient and outpatient behavioral therapy, medication, as well as family and community support networks.

Despite the increases in the volume of Americans experiencing mental health challenges, there is hope. Several national studies have shown that there has been a decrease in stigma and negative assumptions about mental illness. The studies show that people are more willing to reveal that they have a mental illness. In addition, fewer survey respondents indicate that they would be reluctant to seek help for a mental health problem. Fortunately, there are many resources available to assist individuals and families who may experience mental health challenges.

Depending on your location there are always resources nearby and listed below are a few Michigan and national resources for anyone who may be experiencing challenges with mental health or substance abuse.

▪ National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988
▪ National Hotline for Mental Health: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
▪ Behavioral Health Treatment Provider Locator
Michigan Community Mental Health Agencies: complete listing
Mindfulness Meditation
Self-Care Resource Center

SE Michigan and surrounding areas:
Lifeways - Jackson and Hillsdale, MI
Gryphon Place - Kalamazoo, MI
Central Michigan 211
National Alliance on Mental Illness - Lansing, MI
Lenawee Community Mental Health Authority

Chris Smith
Former Nonprofit Consultant with Nonprofit Network


*Updated from May 2022

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