Thinkstock In the first quarter of this year, the Everett Clinic saw upwards of 1,500 new patients asking for help with anxiety or depression. (Thinkstock)

Thinkstock In the first quarter of this year, the Everett Clinic saw upwards of 1,500 new patients asking for help with anxiety or depression. (Thinkstock)

Rise in anxiety and depression correlates to social disruption

Our mental health issues are tied to loss of meaningful work, social support and financial security.

In the last year, many of my medical colleagues have asked me, “Do you think that there is an increase in depression and anxiety”?

I hadn’t thought much about it, but in the first quarter of this year, our Behavioral Health Department at The Everett Clinic was hit by a tsunami of adults and children coming in with these conditions. In January through March alone, we saw over 1,500 new patients asking for help. This is unprecedented in the 25 years I have run our department. What’s going on?

With regard to depression, a 2017 study of over 600,000 individuals found significant increases of depression among teenagers and older adults. But we are also seeing soaring rates of anxiety, especially among teenagers. The National Institute of Mental Health estimated that 38 percent of teenage girls and 26 percent of teenage boys are suffering from anxiety disorders. How can this be?

At the same time, access to mental health care has worsened. Looking at a variety of statistics, Mental Health America ranked Washington 34 out of 50 states for mental health care in the nation. Despite the Affordable Care Act, 17 percent of individuals with a mental illness have no health insurance. And many adults with insurance can’t afford care.

Anyone who has tried to find a therapist or a psychiatrist will tell you, “Hardly anyone is taking new patients.” Snohomish County has one of the lowest number of psychiatrists per 1,000 individuals in the state. The demand for mental health services and the lack of providers creates the perfect storm. More people need help and they can’t find the help they need.

Recently, I read an excellent book published this year titled “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — And the Unexpected Solutions” by Johann Hari. A journalist, Hari conducted exhaustive research on the rise of depression and anxiety in our culture, interviewing patients, scientists and mental health professionals alike.

What he found: These increases in the rates of anxiety and depression is not likely based on better ways of diagnosing these conditions, but rather on the increased disruption of our social fabric — the loss of meaningful work, social support, financial security and spiritual values.

He reminds us that while all mental states do have a physical basis — in our brains and in our genes — that they also have a psychological and social foundation as well. This has been referred to as the “bio-psycho-social” model of mental health.

On the psychological side, there is increasing evidence that children and adults who have had adverse childhood events or trauma are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. The more of these events someone experiences in their childhood, the more likely they were to have both mental and physical disorders as adults. As a psychologist, I see this correlation every day.

Hari focuses on the social disconnection that our modern culture has wrought. We are more plugged into our smartphones than we are with each other. We spend more time looking at posts on Facebook by our friends than we do spending time with our friends.

A Gallup poll in 2012 found that 63 percent of workers indicated that they were “not engaged” with their work. And with the rise of the gig economy, loss of pensions offered by employers and the recession of 2007, many Americans have lost their sense of future financial security — an important element for well-being.

I am also sure that the upheaval between our branches of government has further increased our sense of insecurity.

Perhaps the first step in our collective healing is to acknowledge these disruptions. It’s sometimes difficult to see how we are impacted by our psychological and social experience. There is something wrong here. We need to ask ourselves how can we find greater balance, meaning and connection in our lives. We need to make change.

That is, perhaps, the first step toward health.

Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/amily-talk-blog.

Talk to us

More in Life

Create your own simple syrup for the best summer drinks

Try two drink recipes — a sparkling lemonade and a margarita — that call for chile lemon simple syrup.

Pinot gris continues to merit gold medals for Northwest wine

The Cascadia wine competition proves the Burgundy white grape is just as worthy of attention as ever.

With COVID-19, this is a once-in-a-century kind of summer

Though we’re in a pandemic, we can still find imaginative and resourceful ways to enjoy summertime.

Flavorful chicken salad is perfect for a hot summer night

The only cooking you need to do for this dish is toast the walnuts to enhance their flavor.

Keep masks on the kitchen counter next to your phone so you remember to grab one when you leave the house. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Household strategies to manage summer’s hottest new accessory

This mom lays out her plan to keep clean masks available to all four family members at all times.

2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon EcoDiesel: Don’t call it an SUV

The new engine produces 442 lb-ft of torque. Its partner is an eight-speed automatic transmission.

How Impossible’s plant-based burger meat compares to beef

Thanks to the pandemic, the plant-based meat alternative is no longer impossible to find in stores.

This summer, your table is waiting on Main Street in Edmonds

The city is closing off the street on weekends to provide a safe place for dining. Bothell is doing the same thing, but seven days a week.

Whidbey Island’s roadside red door is a portal to nowhere

The door on Cultus Bay Road has been a South Whidbey Island icon for 30 years. Here’s the story.

Most Read