Mental health struggles are very common. In fact, at some point in life, more than 50 percent of people in the United States will be diagnosed with some kind of mental illness or disorder. Some of the most common mental health conditions are:
• Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
• Eating disorders
• Personality disorders
• Posttraumatic stress disorder
• Substance use disorders (addiction)
COVID-19 and Mental Health
Some life circumstances can make COVID-19 extra risky for some communities. For those who live with extended family, it can be hard to socially distance. Many have to show up in person for jobs. Some may not have health insurance, which makes it harder to get care when needed. Researchers need to know how these issues add to their risk.
In an interview on National Institutes of Health Director, Dr. Francis Collins’ blog, he spoke with NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health Director, Dr. Joshua Gordon, about mental health and the importance of open communication.
In the interview, Dr. Collins asked, “Exactly how do you name this kind of stress that everybody’s feeling right now? Is it fear? Is it anxiety about being put in such an area of uncertainty? Is it just grief, the sense that something really profound has happened…”
Dr. Gordon responded, “For different people, it’s different combinations. I know that I feel anxiety for myself and my family in terms of our health. But it’s not just anxiety about contracting the coronavirus, it’s also fear and anxiety about what’s happening to society, what’s happening to our economy, what’s happening to our friends and relatives. And then there is tremendous grief.”
“Somehow being able to talk about it, experience it, and not try to run away from it turned out to be helpful,” said Collins.
“Yes, it’s important to talk about it. For most people, it’s a matter of being able to talk about your feelings, get it out into the open, and hear from others that are going through the same thing,” recommended Gordon.
Dr. Gordon reported that some anxiety is expected, but “if you feel so anxious you can’t get your work done, you actually can’t do the thing that you set out to do, reach out for help either from a friend or from a professional. Other signs would be that you’re starting to withdraw from people, having trouble sleeping, change in appetite, change in physical energy levels, or starting to become irritable or angry.”
“I hope everybody will feel a little more free to be honest about what they are going through. Maybe sometimes we try to just be tough and keep it all to ourselves and don’t want others around us to be influenced, if we’re talking about our own emotions. But we need to share those things,” said Collins.
Mental Health and its Impact on Minorities
Mental health conditions affect people of all races and ethnicities, but members of minority groups are less likely to get treatment. There are many reasons for this, including cost, access, and stigma surrounding mental illness.
Associate Vice President of UArizona Health Sciences‘ Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Principal Investigator for the All of Us Research Program UArizona-Banner, Francisco Moreno, MD, says that factors that are different in different communities, like discrimination, poverty, and other forms of life adversity increase stress that can have negative effects on mental health. He reports that “most of the research on mental health and other health conditions has been done on majority members of our society. Different prevention and treatment interventions may work differently in people from minority groups. That’s why having a diverse database of health information available to researchers to study is vital to better health for all of us.”
The All of Us Research Program is working to enroll one million or more participants to share data that can fuel new insights into human health. Health data from diverse people will help fill gaps in knowledge about why people get sick or stay healthy.
In Arizona and Northern Colorado, more than 42,000 volunteers have enrolled in the program. More than 80% of these participants are from communities that have been traditionally underrepresented in biomedical research.
“Currently, there are more than 30 research projects being conducted on mental health by researchers using health information donated by All of Us participants. Because participants share not only their biomedical health information, but information on their personal and family health, their lifestyle, and their environment, researchers can better understand how all these factors, factors that may be different for each community, and for each person within that community, affect health. This diverse health information may help foster precision medicine, in which care is tailored to the individual,” Moreno says.
In recent years, suicide rates have gone up among Latinos and African Americans, as well as among Native American teens and young adults. Minority mental health is a serious concern that needs more research. To make that research possible, we need to include all communities. That’s why All of Us seeks to reflect the diversity of the United States in terms of geography, race, ethnicity, health status, and more.
To learn more or enroll in the All of Us Research Program, visit AllofUsAZ.org