Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a new KUNR series on mental health in the Silver State. Over the next six months, we’ll explore how this topic impacts the lives of Nevadans.
In the summer of 2020, during the first wave of COVID, a national survey found 62 percent of adults were dealing with increased stress, depression or anxiety. For just under a quarter of U.S. adults, those concerns came on top of a pre-existing mental illness.
The experience of living through COVID helped raise awareness and lower stigma around mental health conditions, said Robin Reedy, who leads the Nevada chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“As you experience things, as you analyze them, and as you learn more, you do better. And that’s really the result of what I’ve seen from the pandemic,” she said.
Three years later, the pandemic can seem like a bad dream – but according to licensed social worker and podcast host Kim Palchikoff, we’re still dealing with its long term effects.
“People don’t want to talk about it anymore,” she said. “But I think, particularly young people, they’re still suffering.”
According to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, suicide was the leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24 last year.
Palchikoff lives with bipolar disorder and has a family history of mental illness. That intimate experience is part of why she created No Stigma Nevada, a podcast focused on issues of mental health. Palchikoff is also trying to give people an alternative to conversations that strictly focus on problems – which is often the prevailing narrative, due to Nevada’s critical shortage of mental health professionals.
“I really believe that Nevadans are wanting to talk about mental health in a different kind of way,” she said.
According to an annual survey by Mental Health America, Nevada consistently ranks among the states with the worst access to care. Last year, only Indiana had a higher percentage of adults with mental illness who couldn’t get the treatment they needed.
The U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration also designates most of the state as a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area, which means there aren’t enough providers to serve the population.
Reedy said those challenges are partially due to Nevada’s low taxes, which limit funding for all kinds of social programs.
“We’ve done everything we can do that doesn’t cost money,” she said.
Under the current approach, Reedy said many people in crisis only get treatment once they show up in the emergency room – or in jail. So she wants to see the state offer more resources to people before they get to that point.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers passed several laws to address mental health, including measures that provide additional Medicaid funding for mental health services and reform patient care. Reedy is optimistic that could indicate a greater appetite for tackling the challenges facing Nevadans with mental health conditions.
“One of the biggest pieces was something that doesn’t have a practical end result,” she explained. “The receptiveness on both sides of the aisle for talking about mental health.”
In July, KUNR’s Maria Palma will report about mental health among Latinos and how the lack of culturally competent therapists poses a hurdle to accessing care.