Each and every day, SAMHSA works to ensure that substance misuse is prevented in America’s communities and that our nation’s mental health is strong. May marks Mental Health Awareness Month and this week, marks National Prevention Week.
The value of prevention cannot be overstated. Particularly, in these difficult times, we know that many may turn to substances to cope with the new stressors we are all now faced with. I have been inspired by community prevention efforts across this country. Preventionists who have already dedicated themselves to this cause have redoubled their efforts to create innovative solutions to provide prevention services while observing social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
The coronavirus does not bring with it the elimination of other health conditions such as substance use disorders-it only adds to the toll of substance misuse on our people. We know that alcohol use is greatly increasing during this time of social isolation—it is important to continue to make people aware of the risks posed by alcohol use—particularly the possibility of alcohol-associated injury with intoxication and the risk of developing physical dependence with chronic use during a time when access is easy and time on our hands with loss of our daily structure is great. We need to be mindful of the risks that alcohol pose to our children-it was disturbing to watch Saturday Night Live-a show watched weekly by millions of Americans—joke about alcohol use by children in these times of social isolation and stay at home orders when the truth is that alcohol use by children is a major health threat and excessive alcohol use by adults too often results in abuse and neglect of our children. Such incidents underscore the importance of prevention work in this area. We must continue to teach our children about the risks of other substances as well, including marijuana. Our most recent data tell us that the nation’s youth and young adults believe marijuana to pose relatively little risk to their health-this in the face of accumulating evidence of harm to learning and memory, mental health, and risk of addiction with its use. We must dispel that myth. Our data also tell us of the need to extend prevention efforts to include both children and adults. We know that adults over 26 continue to initiate the use of substances. Methamphetamine use is on the rise in this population and preventionists; we need your voice in this area.
As you are home with your children and families, I encourage you to have conversations about the dangers of substance misuse and the risks to one’s health. These conversations can be critically important.
As we collectively battle covid-19 as a nation, I also urge all Americans, in this, National Mental Health Awareness Month, to not forget that mental health is just as important as physical health. We must remember that the conditions all Americans are living under lead to increases in stress and trauma which can result in anxiety disorders and depression. These are real conditions that affect Americans in a profound way. The costs can be great and include disability and, potentially, loss of life by suicide. We cannot ignore these conditions. They must be addressed.
Our fellow citizens living with serious mental illness, that is, illnesses is so severe that they affect daily functioning, also need our help and attention. We must continue to remember that these conditions persist despite the existence of a physical health pandemic.
During the month of May, and every day, I encourage all Americans to consider their mental health. Know there is help available. The mental health workforce of this nation, just like our preventionists, have not shown any signs of slowing during this time. Help is available in-person if needed, but also through other virtual and effective means.
To the millions of Americans with mental illness who live happy, healthy, and successful lives, I thank you for serving as models that treatment does indeed work. Help is available to those who need it. I thank all preventionists and mental health professionals who continue to be on the front line of this fight. And, I urge all Americans in the strongest possible terms, now, more than ever, do not ignore signs of excessive substance use or compromised mental health. These are serious issues—just as serious as the coronavirus. As we focus our efforts during this month and week to protect our nation’s mental health and promote substance use prevention, I am certain that together, going forward, we can stem the tide of these crises.