Discussing mental health

Clinical social worker for Lakeland Mental Health Center Colleen Kennedy, left, and Jody Shaskey, Regional Operations Director at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, discussed childhood and adolescent mental health during a panel on mental health in 2019. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1 in 5 adults suffer from mental health symptoms under normal circumstances.

This article is the first in a series of four focusing on various mental health topics.  


As the global pandemic continues to press on, mental health concerns are on the rise. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 1 in 5 adults and a greater number of children and adolescents suffer from mental health symptoms under normal circumstances. It is also estimated less than half of these individuals access mental health services. With the added stressors of the pandemic, including changes in learning formats for students and employment status for the working population, these numbers are elevated. 

Mental health conditions range in severity, with the local mental health providers seeing depression and anxiety-related symptoms most commonly. Left unresolved, even low severity issues can snowball into larger problems. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states that anxiety disorders affect 80 million adults in the United States each year, which constitutes for 18.1% of the population. Despite it being highly treatable, only 36.9% of afflicted individuals seek treatment for their anxiety concerns. 

“People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders,” states the ADAA website. “Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality and life events.” While anxiety and depression are two different diagnoses, individuals suffering from one are twice as likely to suffer from the other as well. 

Colleen Kennedy, clinical social worker at Lakeland Mental Health Center addressed why it is important to focus on mental health concerns as they arise. 

“Leaving mental health issues untreated can lead to a worsening of problems. This might present as a decline in school or vocational performance, problems in relationships, or presentation or worsening of physical health problems. Mental well-being influences your thinking, feeling and behaviors. The healthier we are, the better we think, feel, and engage in responsibilities, activities and relationships.”

Lake Region Healthcare’s Genie Loeffler, board certified psychiatric nurse practitioner shared advice and tips related to mental health for individuals and those they care for.  

“Make your mental health a priority. Don’t discount the importance of physical activity, nutrition, sleep and caring for medical health in addition to attending to your mental health needs. Oftentimes close friends and family members may notice mental health changes before you do. Particularly, in the midst of the pandemic it is important to check in with your family members and loved ones,” Loeffler said.

A large problem surrounding mental health is the stigma that is attached to it. Mental health patients regularly share with their providers that they were hesitant to seek treatment due to the correlating stigma. Brandon Saxton, postdoctoral psychology resident and clinic manager of Solutions Behavioral Healthcare Professionals touched on the topic of mental health stigmas. “One of the most common forms of stigma that I encounter related to mental health is the idea that things have to be going ‘really badly’ to consider mental health services. Or, the idea that there is ‘something wrong’ with people who go to therapy. I think this idea is harmful because it discourages people from accessing care when they could benefit from it. Anyone who is having mental health symptoms which are impacting their life or functioning in some way may benefit from mental health care. I think we can reduce this stigma/misconception by normalizing discussions about mental health as well as normalizing going to see a mental health provider. My hope is that someday it won’t be any more stigmatizing to see a mental health care provider than it is to see a dentist, physician, or any other kind of professional,” Saxton said.

Local mental health practitioners are dedicated to preserving, assisting and improving the mental health and well-being of the community. Reaching out with concerns, no matter how big or small is highly encouraged. Lakeland Mental Health Group, Lake Region Healthcare, and Solutions Behavioral Health Professionals are only three of the facilities in the area providing mental health services, but all are scheduling appointments to address mental health concerns. 

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