TMCnet Feature
December 02, 2019

Erum Majid Randhawa Examines the Worldwide Mental Health Epidemic

Mental health is a sensitive and often times debatable subject when it is openly discussed. Although numerous studies have shown an increase in symptoms of depression and suicide among adolescents since 2010, certain researchers view them as being incorrectly hyped up and insist that there is a shortage of conclusive data to back up these claims.

Mental illnesses can be common disorders that affect millions of people such as depression and anxiety. Or they can be an unusual, rarer afflictions like paraphilia (sexual compulsion) and trichotillomania (a compulsion to pull out hair). While mental illness is not defined as sadness, insanity or rage, its various forms can certainly include such side effects. Nobody is immune to its complexities or its universal reach.

Erum Majid Randhawa, a mental health counselor at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Connecticut, has investigated how widespread the mental health epidemic has become, in the United States and around the globe.

America's Anguish

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, surveyed over 600,000 Americans. Its findings were strikingly alarming: major depression among 20 to 21-year-olds more than doubled from 2009 to 2017, climbing from 7 percent to 15 percent; depression saw a 69 percent surge among 16 to 17-year-olds; serious psychological distress rose 71 percent among 18 to 25-year-olds from 2008 to 2017; twice as many 22 to 23-year-olds attempted suicide in 2017 compared with 2008. Of that demographic, 55 percent more had suicidal thoughts and, by 2017, one out of five 12 to 17-year-old girls had encountered major depression in the previous year.

Over the same period, suicide also reached disheartening numbers, as the rate among 18 to 19-year-olds soared 56 percent from 2008 to 2017. Behavior tied to depression, like self-harm and cutting, has also increased, resulting in more hospital admissions.

Teens and young adults represent the overwhelming majority in this mental health crisis, with Americans aged 26 and over being impacted less. Mental Health America (MHA) revealed its State of Mental Health Report, confirming similar patterns: major depression found in youth has increased 4.35 percent over the past six years, representing more than two million youth, and, tragically, nearly 60 percent are not receiving any mental health treatment.

According to Erum Majid Randhawa, adults, perhaps not to the same extent as America's youth, are facing their own peril. Nearly 20 percent of Americans (45 million-plus) are experiencing a mental illness, of which there are over 10.3 million adults with serious thoughts of suicide – up almost 450,000 people from last year's data. A sizeable portion of these adults (57 percent, to be exact) fails to undergo treatment in aiding and possibly curing their mental illness.

A Worldwide Concern

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that more than 322 million people suffered from depression, making up about 4 percent of the world's population, and documented an increase of 18.4 percent between 2005 and 2015.

The World Economic Forum predicts that direct and indirect costs of mental health surpassed four percent of global GDP and, should medical professionals continue to dismiss these ailments, the global economy could conceivably forfeit up to $16 trillion between 2010 and 2030.

Insofar as further evidence of this epidemic, the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation (IHME) showed that in 2017, slightly less than 300 million people worldwide endured anxiety, another 160 million people experienced major depressive disorder and 100 million went through spells of dysthymia, a moderate form of depression.

Another data collection from IHME, from the Global Burden of Disease, discovered that about 13 percent of the global population (roughly 971 million people) suffer from some type of mental disorder, with dementia being the fastest-growing. Dismally, one in four people will experience some form of mental illness in any given year.

Finally, A recent study determined that over 9 percent of adults in Japan, 22 percent in the U.S. and 23 percent in the United Kingdom are constantly overcome with feelings of loneliness. Seniors living alone in Japan between 1980 and 2015 accounted for almost six million citizens, an increase more than six-fold during that period. Some of these elderly individuals, in search of a community to join, actually went on to shoplift in the hopes of being arrested and socially stabilized by jail.

Erum Majid Randhawa on Potential Causes of Mental Illness

Psychiatrists have been unable to pinpoint exactly what causes mental illnesses because it can never be summarized by one element. A combination of risk factors, including genetics, abuse, trauma, stress, domestic violence, unfortunate childhood events, bullying or substance abuse, can certainly exacerbate the threat. It is not an exact science with undeniable proof; however, says Erum Majid Randhawa.

Technology's presence has swallowed up teens and young adults today, much more than the preceding generations, as smartphones, social media and online gaming have, disturbingly, assumed control. Teens are spending less time interacting with friends in a face-to-face environment, preferring electronic communications, and studies have verified that these patterns are associated with mental health issues.

A reduction in these in-person meetings enhances feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Isolation, particularly social disconnection, endangers one's health, as loneliness has been alleged to mimic the impact on life expectancy that arises from smoking 15 cigarettes per day. On the risk factor scale, it matches the potency of excessive drinking and obesity, while social seclusion can also accelerate cognitive decline, heart disease, depression, and suicide. 

Despite youth being at a greater risk for now, Erum Majid Randhawa notes that mental health illnesses are capable of maintaining a grip on the welfare of all individuals, anytime, anywhere. 

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