It is easy to get depressed quickly when reading about mental health and substance use statistics and how much negative impact poor mental health status has on people, on families, on the healthcare system and on the economy as a whole. Suicides are up, depression rates are rampant, opioid and other substance use is off the charts. People are dying from cannabis vaping, for God’s sake. If you weren’t in need of a mental health intervention before your read about these problems, you would need one after.
It’s a travesty that we don’t spend more time talking openly and without stigma about the struggles we face and/or the struggles of our friends and family members. We need to be kinder and more understanding of each other – more people are struggling than you think.
I am amazed how many mental health and substance abuse companies I am seeing right now. After I left the field in 1998 to join the world of venture capital, I probably saw less than 10 startups related to this topic in the ensuing 15 years. And then suddenly, and not coincidentally due to new mental health parity laws among other things, the landscape changed. Now I feel like I hear about 10 new companies a week, each of which is trying to effectively address some aspect of mental health or substance abuse disorders. I’m thrilled to see the energy though way too many of these companies look the same to me. I particularly admire the ones taking on very tough problems, such as opioid abuse, suicidality, teen depression, post-partum depression, PTSD and bipolar disorder, among others.
If you spend a lot of time thinking about how many people are impacted by these terrible conditions, you definitely need to engage in some deep breathing. So because today is World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d share my two most favorite uplifting news stories about mental health to put you back on the road to recovery. You’re welcome.
1) Sesame Street has added a character whose mother is an opioid addict
No, really. Her name is Karli. I love that Sesame Street has decided to recognize and humanize this problem, particularly considering that nearly 6 MILLION CHILDREN live in homes where a parent is an opioid addict or has other substance abuse issues. These children suffer not only in the moment, but homes with this challenge cause increased risk of major chronic medical conditions for the children later in life – if you want to be depressed again, go take an ACEs test.
But Sesame Street, once again, is out there waving the flag for those who suffer in order to help them recognize they are not alone. They have done this before, introducing characters with autism and with other physical disabilities, opening the dialogue for kids who deserve better. Yes, it’s depressing that the world needs Sesame Street to do this but thank God they did. I am a forever fan of this company. If only our healthcare system could treat people with this level of openness and kindness. Read about Karli HERE and watch her here:
2) Owning a dog improves mental and physical well-being
A study done at Uppsala University in Sweden showed that owning a dog dramatically improved health outcomes for those who had heart attacks. Heart attack survivors in the study who were living alone, but owned a dog, had a 33% lower risk of death, while stroke survivors who lived alone and had a dog had a 27% reduced risk of death, compared to people who did not own a dog and lived in a single household group.
Here’s the money quote in one ABC News article: “We found the dog owners had lower mortality than non-owners with the largest difference seen in the subgroup of people that lived in a single household,” Fall said. “This group is especially vulnerable. It seems that dogs can alleviate the impact of living alone; they can increase social interaction.”
Loneliness and isolation are two of the biggest risk for serious mental and physical health problems. Groups like AARP and CareMore have been working on addressing these challenges through proactive models of intervention, but it seems that they could really advance their outcomes by partnering with the local Humane Societies.
It’s somewhat logical really – if you own a dog you have unconditional love around you at all times. My dog never says anything about how she is disappointed in my housecleaning skills or my inability to remember important dates. She just looks at me the way I look at chocolate chip cookies: with love and unabashed desire. It’s great. But for those with major medical conditions, a dog also gives you an excuse, nay, an imperative, to get out and move. And when you get out, you may also interact more with other people. At a minimum, you get your steps in.
I love that the researchers even attempted to differentiate which dog breeds had the best impact on health outcomes. I am somewhat offended that they dissed the chihuahua class, but they probably just don’t understand all of the exercise I get carrying her around in her cute little bag – biceps baby.
So that’s my public service announcement for World Mental Health Day. If you really want to improve your own heart and mind, go get a dog, take a walk, then plunk down on the couch together, and share a healthy snack while watching Sesame Street.