ROCKFORD (WREX) — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and last year, mental health professionals say they saw an increase in the number of patients seeking treatment for mental health issues.
With the pandemic, some of the reasons for seeking help have included losing your business or job, and the pandemic forced unemployment to sky-rocket.
But experts say mental health issues still carry a stigma with them.
Our mental health is a part of our overall health, so why don't we treat it the same?
"There's that stigma in terms of people seeing it as a sign of a weakness," Rosecrance Dr. Raymond Garcia says.
"An emotional injury, or some type of emotional pain, it may not seem as real," Lynn Momberger, the Executive Director of Family Counseling Services in Rockford, adds.
"It's hard for people to understand unless they're experiencing it themselves," Danielle Angileri, the Executive Director of NAMI Northern Illinois, explains.
And according to data from the CDC, more people are experiencing mental health issues.
Anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation are common things therapists say they've heard over the past year, and even though vaccinations have allowed us to return to some normalcy, our routines are still uprooted and counselors say they're still seeing an increase in patients seeking treatment.
"40 percent of adults had anxiety or depression over this past year, at its peak, and it's still hanging around 35 percent," Dr. Garcia says.
That's up from the 20 percent average, and Dr. Garcia explains that jump means people who didn't have any mental health issues prior to the pandemic are experiencing some.
He says he's still seeing people who are afraid to leave their house. And Momberger adds her therapists say they've seen a lot of people with vaccine-related anxiety.
Despite those rising numbers, numbers that went the opposite direction in Winnebago County were suicides.
Winnebago County had 38 suicides in 2020, as opposed to 50 in 2019, according to county Coroner Bill Hintz.
To be fair, Boone County did see a rise in suicides. It had six in 2020 as opposed to two in 2019. It hasn't had any in 2021.
Experts say tele-health plays a huge part in accessibility to mental health services and low suicide numbers, though they say even one suicide is too many.
"They may not have transportation or they may not have child care, so the fact that they could do a session virtually was helpful for them," Momberger says.
Momberger says Family Counseling Services will continue using tele-health for therapy.
"Allowing people to get their mental health from wherever, almost whenever, has been one of the benefits and I think there's a demand for it," Dr. Garcia says.
Dr. Garcia, Momberger, and Angileri say, as more people try counseling, it's important to share your experiences in hopes of inspiring others to get help.
"There's no shame in asking for help," Dr. Garcia says.
"I think that the more you accept and view your mental health as important, the more you will look into that," Angileri adds.
The goal is to bring a once uncomfortable topic out of the darkness and into the light.
If you know someone struggling with their mental health, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.