Ireland King and mom Michelle know the effect of the pandemic on mental health.
"I didn't want to leave my room," said Ireland King. "I didn't even feel like eating. My family felt like I didn't like them because I was so rude all the time."
"She basically came out and said she didn't wanna be here anymore," said Michelle King. "More than once."
The Indiana family is by no means alone.
"We describe it as a mental health tsunami going on," said Dr. Thomas Plante, licensed psychologist and psychology professor at Santa Clara University.
That tsunami has millions of Americans grasping for relief. Medication and therapy might be the medical solution, but that’s not always the answer.
"Some people act different to medications, it doesn't always work for people," said Heidi Strunk, president & CEO of Mental Health America of California.
"A lot of times medication is trial and error."
Stigma, lack of equity and access and a mental health worker shortage are all challenges for people seeking help.
Experts say for the individual, there are some low-cost options.
A quick app store search shows dozens of apps, some focused on checking in with yourself, others can link you to a therapist.
- Jotting down what makes you happy
- Getting movement or exercise
- Finding an outlet like music, video games, or art
- Joining online or in-person support groups
"When you identify that, do it. There's power in doing what makes us happy," said Strunk. "These are things that people need to do, of course, before we get into crisis, but being proactive."
It's not just up to the individual.
"Lots of times it's really hard for people to do anything individually because they're paralyzed by the anxiety or the fear of the depression or whatever," said psychologist Dr. Thomas Plante. "And it's hard for them to really be proactive in helping themselves."
Plante says employers, bosses, family, and friends can start with a simple, "I get that."
"We need to journey with people in solidarity. You know, we need to be with them and we say, you're anxious. I get that. I get anxious, you're depressed, I get depressed," said Dr. Plante. "You know, you're feeling suicidal. I don't blame you, you know, but you know, the world is a mess."
And beyond that, people can follow up.
Another option: a warm line.
Warm lines aren’t crisis hotlines, but a tool for people before they’re in dire straits. There are more than 100 in the U.S. The majority are staffed by people like Bettye Foster, who have firsthand experience.
BETTYE FOSTER: We're all primary caregivers of someone with a mental health challenge.
LINDSEY THEIS: So even yourself?
FOSTER: Even myself. So I have a family member that I was the primary caregiver for. And some of our advocates are still that primary caregiver for someone.
It’s not a call for help, but it is a call to help. Because, as Bettye puts it:
"You see someone on the street and you're like, yeah, you don't know what's going on with that person," said Foster. "And you also don't know what's going on with the person who looks good, who looks well. You know, for that, you may think they've got it all together. You don't know, because mental illness doesn't have that kind of face."
Meanwhile, the Kings search for more help for Ireland. She’s lived through the COVID health crisis, and is now among the millions hit by the mental health crisis.
"There needs to be something. Something needs to change," said Ireland King.
"I’m not willing to let her slip through the cracks, and no other family should either," said Michelle King.