Today we are joined by Ken Duckworth. Ken’s journey into psychiatry started when he was a boy growing up with a dad who experienced severe bipolar disorder. His father was loving, kind and periodically quite ill, hospitalized for months at a time. Ken became a psychiatrist in part to help his father. He is very fortunate to serve as the medical director for NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness of the United States) and to be part of this remarkable community.
Today we will discuss the mental risks the pandemic is provoking in the population and how these may affect individuals, societies and businesses.
If you are strugling with any kind of mental healt issue or know anyone who is, visit NAMI: https://nami.org/Home
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Ken, the definition of risk management is about the ability to identify and overcome potential risk. And it’s a key part of governance and leadership. The long term success of an organization relies on many things, including continually assessing the risk exposure. Now, if we can consider mental health at the macro level, what do you see as the biggest risk today for companies and employees.
Dominic an interesting things happened in the last few years, which is employers have gone from thinking of mental health and substance use, as inconvenient expenditures that they hope to avoid, to a complete transformation in the recognition that the mental well being and good care of their employees is actually one of the best predictors of their company’s success. This is very welcome, for me as a psychiatrist, as the National Alliance on Mental illnesses, Chief doctor, because I’ve been seeing this, you know, through the lens of a teaching and advocacy organization, but I’d say in the last three years now, again, not only work in the States, so it may be different in other countries, but employers have come to understand that the leading cause of absenteeism and presenteeism, which is mean showing up for work, but not really working, is untreated depression. And mental health concerns have gotten substantially worse in the pandemic. And I think of this silver lining of these catastrophic worldwide events, as a recognition that mental health has become a we not a very phenomena. So most of us know somebody who’s living with panic disorder, or depression or trauma or relapse from addiction. And while you wouldn’t want it to go this way, I think the recognition that these are common, treatable conditions, is going to change attitudes. It certainly has changed attitudes in the United States.
That’s really positive to hear. And I think it’s fantastic that we can start referring to this as an “us” a “we”, “me” issue and not a, “they” event. What do you think some of the major mental health risks are today?
Well, the Center for Disease Control in the States did a survey of American adults in real-time using standardized measures. So it’s not just the subjective feelings of people, they actually took a screening test that you take at your primary care doctor or family doctor, when that survey showed that 41.9% of Americans had clinically significant mental health symptoms, depression, anxiety, trauma, or relapse of addiction. This was adults only. And it impacted different populations differently. Young people are suffering a great deal. I think anyone who has grey hair should be mindful of the fact that the younger generation has given a lot in this pandemic. being isolated, not being able to go to college or to school, secondary school, and pursue your dreams has really impacted them at the developmental challenge in a way that people who have established careers and families haven’t been hit quite as hard. So if you look at that survey, anxiety, depression, trauma and addiction, relapse, all in that order 1234 and disproportionately impacting young people, unpaid caregiver, so if you have a family member with dementia, or another problem, people of colour, essential workers, these are the people that we’re experiencing the highest amounts of mental health concerns. And if you look at the percentage of people who are living with suicidal thinking, it’s quite high as well, surprisingly, so. So how the pandemic is going to impact mental health is still relatively unknown. But we also know that people have struggled with this. And if you think of human relationships as having antidepressant and anti-anxiety qualities, with no side effects, you know, then isolation, curfews, all these things that we’re doing to serve the well being of people and to prevent unnecessary death may have a mental health component to them.
It seems like a really huge number when we talk about 41.9% having clinically significant mental health disorders. Should we be surprised by that number Ken?
Well, again, we had a crisis in America before the pandemic. So our suicide numbers have continued to rise. America, of course, leads the world in opiate overdose deaths. I encourage all of you in international countries to learn from the American errors in the overprescribing of opiates for pain syndromes. I make a note of that because America has mismanaged that quite badly. We have our have gotten our arms around it, the numbers are getting better. But we had a mental health crisis before the pandemic. And, you know, my work at the National Alliance on Mental illness has never been busier. I think I’ve been contacted by I think was 250 media outlets. I get two calls a day to talk to the media about mental health, about stress about suicidal thoughts. You know, Meghan Markel did an interview last night, here in the states with Oprah. And she discussed her own concerns about not wanting to live. This represents a sea change again, and how people talk about this, this used to only be isolation and shame. And again, now this is part of the human condition, people have desperate feelings at times, and they’re better off if they can talk about it, get support and get treatment.
You mentioned earlier, the impacts of mental health disorders and COVID related isolation has paused the dreams of many, and this has impacted youth during are developmentally important period. What do you think the long term impacts of this are? And what can business leaders be doing to support what will be the next generation to enter the workforce?
I think it’s a really good question. And I don’t think we know I would not be surprised if this generation carried with it. Some psychological trauma, as a result of missing say, two years of college or their senior year of school, like they’re giving up things that won’t be coming back, your chance to be the star and the senior play or go to the senior prom, usually with the wrong person, I might add, but that’s a time-honoured ritual in the states right to go to the senior prom. I will say that when a generation goes through something, it stays with them. I’m gonna come on to tell you a story. This is just to give you an idea because this is a true story. My parents grew up in the Great Depression. And my mother didn’t have running water. My father had to quit High School in order to support his family. 45 years later, 40 years later, there are successful people in suburban Detroit. And when we went to visit my grandmother, they informed me that there was a full gallon of milk in the refrigerator and told me that I was to drink it. I was 13 years old six foot one freakishly large and eating them out of house and home, they explained to me that my job was to drink the entire gallon of milk before we went to see my mum because the gallon of milk cost I think 39 cents at the time.
So you’re telling me that 50 years, 45 years after the Great Depression, they were still scarred by that experience to such a profound extent that they couldn’t bear the thought of giving up a gallon of milk while they had a strapping lad who’s eating them out of house and home? The answer is that’s exactly what happened. And they could see it. It wasn’t that it was unconscious. They would say to my brother who was a very successful businessman, Jody, it may not always be like this. Things can go badly. And in the 2006 housing collapse. In America, my brother said to me, You know, I think mom and dad might have been right, that the scars that they lived with through the Great Depression both shaped their thinking, and also offered some cautionary tales, as we were so exuberant.
Yeah, I love that idea Ken. And I hope that we can all learn something positive from this story about your parents and find the silver linings in what continues be a painful experience for so many people around the world.
Dominic one thing my mother did tell me though, I asked her about being poor. And she said to me, here’s the thing about it, Ken. We knew we were poor, but we were all in it together. And this is interesting. To me, because this is the ultimate shared experience of high school seniors and college students across the world. They’re all missing something great. And they’re missing it together. So I think there might be an opportunity for shared experience and potential connection. Because my mom used to really emphasize this point, that if they were the only people that were poor, it would have felt differently. They were part of a community of people going through the same thing.