Does anyone else feel like they’re drowning? Mental health is suffering

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: These are challenging times to live in Los Angeles.

In recent years, an unprecedented array of stressors have accumulated around us – skyrocketing inflation and immense income inequality; record-breaking drought and heatwaves; a alarming increase in hate crimes, especially against Asian, Black and LGBTQ residents; and the many lingering effects of a devastating global pandemic.

In the midst of—and because of—this adversity, our children suffer. In California, rates of anxiety and depression among young people shot from 2016 to 2020, according to an analysis of Annie E. Casey Foundation. The California Department of Health reports that the suicide rate among young people increased by 20% from 2019 to 2020.

The pandemic and distance learning have also wreaked havoc in education. Up to 20,000 LA Unified students were unaccounted for at the start of the school year. Recently, the district reported that 72% of students failed to meet state standards in math and about 58% fell behind in English, reversing five years of progress. Black and Hispanic students and girls were particularly affected.

Flames engulf a chair inside a home as the oak fire burns in Mariposa County, California.

Flames engulf a chair inside a home as the oak fire burns in Mariposa County, California.

(Noah Berger/Associated Press)

Viewing each of these challenges on its own is heart-pounding: facing them all at once is almost too much of a good thing.

“One of the biggest threats to our mental health is that there’s not just one or two or three biggest threats,” said Lisa Wong, acting director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “Perhaps the greatest threat is that it feels like it’s coming at you from all sides.”

Anyone else feel like they’re drowning?

We don’t all suffer equally, but none of us are immune to the effects of these extraordinary times.

This year the Los Angeles County Quality of Life Indexan annual survey measuring Angelenos’ satisfaction with their lives, 5 points down in comparison to the previous year. At 53 points out of a possible 100, it was the lowest score since UCLA began polling in 2016.

The 1,400 respondents, representing a cross-section of the county’s population, expressed increasing levels of dissatisfaction in all nine categories included in the survey. The biggest falls have been in the cost of living, transportation, public safety and the economy.

“It told us that the county’s residents aren’t happy,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, a UCLA professor and former city councilman who oversaw the project. “There’s a level of anxiety here that’s unprecedented in my life.”

Tentacles sculpted by the ebb and flow of the tide etch a pattern in the mud in Mexico's Colorado River Delta.

Tentacles sculpted by the ebb and flow of the tide etch a pattern in the mud in the Colorado River Delta in Ejido Indiviso, Baja California.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Three colorful overlapping circles

How to save a life

Pandemic stress, traumatic events and economic uncertainty have turned our world upside down. This series aims to make the cascade of threats to your mental health a little easier to manage.

When we’re afraid, it’s for good reason. Rising inflation earlier this year has pushed up the cost of basic necessities like bread, petrol and clothing. These cost hikes weren’t unique to Los Angeles, but were particularly painful in a city where more than half of residents pay housing costs that are typically considered prohibitive. A 2019 city ​​report found that 51.7% of all Los Angeles households spend more than 30% of their income on rent. According to the same report, almost a third of renters in the city – 32% – spend more than half of their income on rent.

And if you do want to talk about anxiety, consider this: a quarter of respondents to the Quality of Life Index said they go to bed every night worrying about living on the streets. Yaroslavsky says that means about 2.5 million nationwide who believe they may be left homeless.

According to that latest homeless census69,144 people in the county are experiencing that reality right now – part of our “perfect storm,” he added.

As Wong put it, “All these problems brewing in society have brought people’s psyches to a boil.”

Delivering mental health services to all people who need them has always been a challenge, and it’s only getting harder. Even as demand increases, it has become more difficult to find mental health professionals to fill positions, some of which have become vacant during the pandemic. at one Los Angeles County Psychiatric Hospital That summer, the waiting time for therapy was six months. Scheduling an appointment to meet with a psychiatrist for an initial medication evaluation took less than eight months.

The provision of services in schools to address the adolescent mental health crisis has also proved problematic. LA Unified has allocated $177 million to recruit nearly 900 social workers and other mental health staff for the 2021-22 school year. A year later, about a third of the social workers were hired.

All of this is to say that you’re not alone when you’re struggling right now – when you need a little extra support to get you through the day, the week, or even the next hour. Most of Los Angeles is right there with you.

Surfers Memorial, where someone left a protective mask, on Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz.

Surfers Memorial, where someone left a protective mask, on Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

While we can’t make the pain of this moment go away, we hope we can help make the cascade of threats to your mental health a little easier.

In these pages, you’ll hear from people who have faced their own challenges – like living with a psychotic disorder or a long-term COVID – and what they’ve been able to achieve, not despite their diagnoses, but because of them.

We will explore the ambiguous nature of COVID grief and take you into the world of VR meditation that holds promise for people with mental health issues. We’ll talk to people trying to understand the complexities of suicide and how we might work to prevent it – and we’ll explain how the new national suicide hotline, 988, will work.

We will also hear from mental health professionals and healers, as well as academics and researchers who have dedicated their lives to helping and supporting people who are struggling. What are their success stories and how can we help others?

We’ll also share some resources and tools for managing your own mental health needs and those of your friends and loved ones — and we’ll share some of our favorite places to find solace.

Last but not least, we want to offer this glimmer of hope.

Because even as we face the greatest mental health crisis this city has ever seen, there is a movement that is laying the foundation for a society that is more open to talking about and addressing mental health than we have ever been have seen before.

“The problems are overwhelming,” but we have the potential for abundant and scalable solutions, Wong said. “We can create a hope that is contagious. We can help people do things beyond what they thought they were capable of.”

By continuing our education, we all have the opportunity to contribute not only to our own well-being, but also to the well-being of our family, our friends, our co-workers and our communities.

Let’s take it. Does anyone else feel like they’re drowning? Mental health is suffering

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