The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a global increase in the incidence of anxiety and depression as constraints were placed on our ability to work, seek support from friends and loved ones and engage in our communities. For those suffering from pre-existing mental illness, the impact of social isolation and loneliness was even greater. Today, concerns about mental health remain elevated.
According to a report authored by the office of United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, widespread loneliness in the U.S. poses health risks as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. The research found that loneliness increases the risk of premature death by nearly 30 percent. Those who lack strong social relationships are at even greater risk of stroke and heart disease.
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, which takes place each year in May, Sarah Getch, PhD, Kansas City University (KCU) program director and associate professor of Health Service Psychology, joined WDAF-TV for a series of segments focused on the importance of connectedness.
Getch says nurturing relationships and staying connected with others is key to our well-being. For many, the pandemic changed the workplace environment as employers pivoted to a remote model. To combat feelings of loneliness that stem from limited face-to-face interaction, Getch suggests building workplace connections by finding reasons to meet in-person on occasion and reaching out to check on others.
Research indicates that those who foster healthy, platonic relationships live longer, enjoy better overall physical health and are less likely to experience depression or anxiety. Getch cautions, however, against having an unrealistic expectation of perfect relationships. Instead, when conflict with a friend occurs, have honest dialogue, offer grace and move forward. Meaningful friendships that provide opportunities to be open and vulnerable support us through difficult times.
With an eye toward training future clinicians to help meet the growing need for mental health care nationwide, KCU launched its doctoral program in Clinical Psychology (PsyD) in 2017. Under Getch’s leadership, KCU’s PsyD program prepares students for a constantly evolving world and provides unique studies designed with the future of mental and behavioral health care in mind. Additionally, a focus on interprofessional education with students from KCU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine prepares students for work in partnership with physicians to help patients with the psychological components of their physical illness.
Watch the full segments featuring Dr. Getch by clicking here.