COVID-19 and ending the Mental Health Stigma

Even with COVID-19 vaccination rates increasing, lockdowns being lifted and a trend towards “normalcy” returning, many say there is now a “second pandemic.” Health experts fear the grave mental health repercussions and residual effects of this already prevalent pandemic. While this public health crisis has existed long before pre-pandemic social distancing and isolation, ravaging those who fear to ask for help, many have barriers in the way of seeking help and treatment even in the wake of COVID-19. The SAMHSA reports that nearly 43.7% of adult Michiganders with a mental health diagnosis receive some form of treatment while 56.3% do not. For too long there has been a stigma attached to those who seek out professional health providers to address mental illnesses and conditions. Having a mental health illness or condition has incorrectly been labeled as a weakness in society.

This is not a modern day issue, as there are examples in ancient texts and literature, however there may not be a scientific diagnosis attached to the symptoms or behaviors demonstrated by some individuals suffering in silence. Many scholars believe that the ancient Greek hero Odysseus suffered from PTSD after his long journey back home from the Trojan War. This too is true not only for current veterans of war or active military personnel, but for our current healthcare and frontline workers shouldering the load against COVID-19, and so many others for a variety of reasons. Exposure to higher levels of trauma and despair has led healthcare professionals to increased rates of burnout. A MHA survey completed by 1,119 healthcare workers from June to September 2020, reported that 76% of participants experienced exhaustion and burnout (The Mental Health of Healthcare Workers in COVID-19). No matter your profession or place within society, we each carry markers of our past that are invisible to the eye. Not all disabilities and symptoms are visible, and this is especially true for mental health conditions.

With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s imperative to talk about mental health and prioritize mental health treatment and resources available to the community. The mental health toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on all walks of life and age groups. Currently major depressive disorder impacts 14.8 million adults and is the number one reported disability for individuals 15-44 years old (Mental Health Facts, University of Michigan Counseling and Psychological Services). Unfortunately, these numbers are only projected to increase while we continue to venture into the “new normal” and begin to unpack the psychological baggage of life in lockdown. But, together, we hope to end the stigma surrounding mental health care and treatment, and help promote mental health awareness and resources available.

At Disability Law Group, we encourage all individuals to take proactive measures in mental health prevention, education, and treatment. We know how important it is to be aware of the signs of mental health illness and to ask for help. Below we have included a brief list of resources available to the community and those in need throughout the state of Michigan. While this list is not exhaustive or a complete list, it can be a great way to seek help and additional mental health resources in Michigan.

  • Michigan.gov: list of readily available 24/7 virtual counseling services and mental health resources:  https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98178_99557—,00.html.
  • Michigan.gov Coronavirus: an extensive Behavioral Health Guide for adults, older adults, health care workers, first responders, parents, youth, teachers, caregivers, expectant and new mother, those already in recovery, corrections staff and for veterans: https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus/0,9753,7-406-98178_99557_104975-549331–,00.html
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ Call: 1-800-273-8255 – Available 24/7  – Text TALK to 741741
  • Oakland County Community Health Network: 5505 Corporate Drive Troy, Michigan 48098

24-hour crisis number: 248-456-1991 or 800-231-1127

  • The Rebound Detroit, Managing Mental Health Help Hotline: 1-888-535-6136 Press 8
  • Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority dba Detroit-Wayne Integrated Health Network: 707 West Milwaukee Detroit, Michigan 48202 24-hour crisis numbers: 313-224-7000 or 800-241-4949
  • Michigan Crisis Text Line: Text the keyword RESTORE to 741741. Open 24/7
  • Michigan PEER Warmline: For those living with serious mental illness or substance use challenges, call: 1-888-PEER-753 (888-733-7753). Available daily from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
  • Headspace: Michiganders can get free access to headspace, a mental health and meditation app, by visiting www.headspace.com/mi.

Sources

  • Mental Health Facts, University of Michigan Counseling and Psychological Services
    • https://caps.umich.edu/content/mental-health-facts
  • The Mental Health of Healthcare Workers in COVID-19
    • https://mhanational.org/mental-health-healthcare-workers-covid-19
  • Behavioral Health Barometer, SAMHSA
    • https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Michigan_BHBarometer.pdf

When Your Family is Entitled to Benefits On Your Record

When you start receiving Social Security disability benefits or retirement benefits, some members of your family may also qualify to receive benefits on your record. In order to receive the benefit, an application must be filed with the Social Security Administration. A spouse may be eligible to collect survivor benefits even if they have never worked under Social Security or paid FICA taxes long enough or recently, but they must be at least 62 years of age. Social Security will pay benefits to your spouse at any age if there is a child in his or her care. The child must be under age 16 or disabled before age 22, and entitled to benefits. Further, when you qualify for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, your child(ren) may also qualify as dependents to receive benefits on your record (this includes a biological child, adopted child, stepchild, and even dependent grandchild). In order to be eligible, the dependent child must be:

  • unmarried; and
  • under the age of 18; or
  • under 19 years of age and a full-time student (12th grade or below); or
  • 18 years or older and disabled with the disability beginning before age 22.

For the spouse to be eligible, you must be receiving or eligible to receive retirement or disability benefits. If the spouse is eligible for benefits on their own record, they will be paid that amount first. Next, Social Security will look to see if the benefit on your record is higher. Any additional amount on your record is paid to the spouse, making them potentially eligible for more than they would have otherwise received. Your benefit amount will not decrease once benefits are paid to an eligible spouse or family member. In fact, the additional amount due to an eligible family member, added to your own benefit amount, may help you decide to apply earlier instead of waiting to take your benefit. The amount your spouse will receive may be offset or reduced by other variables, such as a pension for work not covered by Social Security (e.g. government employment), and any ongoing work activity by the spouse or eligible family member.

You will need to ensure that the eligible spouse or family member has an application filed for them or on their behalf with the Social Security Administration. While the amount the eligible member can receive varies, generally the total amount that you and your family can receive is about 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit. Similarly, a divorced spouse who may also qualify for benefits on your record depending on various factors, will not impact the benefit amount payable to you or your family members. If you are divorced, regardless of whether you are remarried, your ex-spouse may be entitled to collect benefits from your record so long as the following criteria is met:

  • You are entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits;
  • The amount your ex-spouse is eligible to collect from your record is more than the benefit they would receive on their own record;
  • The marriage to your ex-spouse lasted at least 10 years;
  • Your ex-spouse is at least 62 years of age; and
  • Your ex-spouse is unmarried;

Additionally, the amount your ex-spouse receives from your record will have no bearing on the amount of benefits you or your eligible spouse may receive. You and your spouse may apply online for disability or retirement benefits together or separately, and Social Security will review all applications filed based on eligibility factors. Once your spouse files for benefits on your record, they will want to be ready to supply information to the Social Security Administration to verify their eligibility and receive an approval. Examples of documents you may need to provide to Social Security include:

  • Birth Certificate or other proof of birth;
  • Proof of U.S. Citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not both in the U.S.;
  • W-2 Forms and/or self-employment tax returns for any years in question;
  • Final Divorce Decree, if applying as a divorced spouse; and
  • Marriage Certificate.

Whether you are thinking about applying for Social Security disability, retirement, or survivors benefits for you or a loved one, the process can be overwhelming and lengthy. Having an experience lawyer on your side to explain what to expect and help you along every step of the way is invaluable. Our caring attorneys and support staff are equipped with the tools and resources to cut through the red-tape and help you get the benefits you deserve. We care about every single case as if it were our own. Call us today or any time for a free consultation.