World Mental Health Day is Oct 10

If there were ever a time when the world needed some help with its collective “mental health” it is undoubtedly NOW!

With World Mental Health Day coming up this Saturday, now is a perfect time to reach out to anyone (everyone!!!) to check in with them about their mental health. Most of those people will say that they’re “fine” – but we all know that really just stands for “F@#&ed Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional”!

This video from my Tuesday night seminar series covers a wide range of safe and effective natural options for improving mental wellness (stress, depression, anxiety, burnout, focus, energy, sleep, resilience, and many others).

Some of these options might help you – or a loved one – with better mental wellness?

Don’t Be Afraid of COVID-19?

Assuming you don’t have access to free medical care and experimental drugs at Walter Reed Medical Center, you might be wondering what YOU can do to naturally keep your immune system strong?

The Wall Street Journal had a nice piece yesterday that explained a bit about how some of the President’s drug treatments are attempting to “boost” his immune system – but as I’ve written about many times, this is NOT the right approach for most people (and can actually backfire later). Luckily, we can get superior benefits by naturally priming our own immune systems.

None of us should be “afraid” of COVID-19, but we need to be smart about how we reduce exposure (wear a mask) and how we prepare our immune systems and our mental wellness if/when we are exposed.

Below is a highlighted version of the WSJ article – and you can read the original here.

Trump’s Covid-19 Treatment Seeks to Boost Immune Response 

Weaker immune systems are a key reason why the elderly are so susceptible to serious cases of Covid-19 

The experimental infusion doctors have given to President Trump seeks to counter a problem affecting many older Covid-19 patients: an ineffective immune response.

Among other treatments, Mr. Trump has taken a drug cocktail from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. that hasn’t been approved for broad use but aims to jump-start an immune defense by supplying antibodies to help fight the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The company says its results suggest the infusion can help people infected with the coronavirus who haven’t yet produced their own antibodies.

The approach makes sense in elderly patients, whose bodies are often less able to fight off pathogens, said Janko Nikolich-Zugich, an immunologist and gerontologist who is a professor at the University of Arizona. “You don’t control the virus as quickly as you should” with older patients, he said.

A growing body of research points to the immune system as a key reason why the elderly are so susceptible to serious cases of Covid-19. As a person ages, the system undergoes “immunosenescence,” gradually losing its ability to mount a response to infection as robustly as it once did. The complicated mechanisms of the immune system don’t work together as well, leading to a slower and less-powerful defense.

In addition to his age, 74, Mr. Trump’s weight also may raise concerns about his immunity, as obesity has been tied to impaired response. And a study published in the journal Nature this August also highlighted the possibility that older men, in particular, might tend to mount a less-robust immune response to the virus.

About 80% of deaths in the U.S. have been among those 65 and older, and about 31% of deaths are among people aged at least 85 years, according to death-certificate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is partly because the elderly are often frailer, and they also have higher rates of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes that are risk factors for severe impact from Covid-19.

But their immune systems are another important factor, researchers say. “When you challenge a body with a virus or a vaccine, there’s just not the vigorous response,” said Cari Levy, a geriatrician who is a professor at the University of Colorado.

Older people often produce fewer, and less-effective, antibodies. These y-shaped proteins are supposed to bind to invading pathogens, neutralizing them and signaling to the body to destroy them.

“It’s slower, it’s unreliable—you probably don’t make as many” antibodies, said Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. The hope is that treatments like Regeneron’s experimental cocktail might help fill that gap early in the infection process, potentially slowing the initial spread of the virus.

Elderly immune systems also often have problems generating the powerful soldiers known as T-cells, which supply a main line of defense against invaders. Production of these cells, from a gland in the chest known as the thymus, drops sharply over the course of a person’s life. They can also lose some of their function.

One recent study suggests that older men have a harder time getting their T-cells into action. New research published this August in Nature looked at 98 patients infected with the coronavirus and found evidence that the immune response varied by gender.

“Especially men of older age were very impaired with respect to T-cell activation,” said Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale University who led the study. Those men who had the least T-cell response tended to have worse Covid-19 outcomes, she said.

There is no treatment currently available that would help with Covid-19 patients’ T-cells, she said. Potentially a future vaccine might do this, but vaccines are often less effective in older patients.

But even as vital parts of an elderly person’s immune system are performing sluggishly, another response can cause trouble by firing up too much. As the body fails to contain the virus quickly, the immune system may produce too many of a type of protein called cytokines. These can damage blood vessels and allow fluid to seep into the lungs.

It isn’t clear why this “cytokine storm” effect is triggered in some patients but not others. But elderly people tend to have a higher level of inflammation, and cytokines, said Amber Mueller, a molecular biologist who is a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School.

This greater baseline level of inflammation is one reason the soldier T-cells are less effective, and it sets the stage for the dangerous overproduction of cytokines, she said.

President Trump remained hospitalized early Monday, after doctors offered conflicting signals about how he is faring with Covid-19. The president sought to project confidence and vigor over the weekend.

Amare H2H Mental Wellness Symposium (2020)

Last week marked the 3rd annual Heart-2-Heart Mental Wellness Symposium – and like all things in 2020, it was unprecedented (but in many GOOD ways)!

Even though we missed the in-person group dynamics that so many of us thrive on, we were able to use some very innovative digital tools to make the virtual meetings as connected and engaging as possible.

If you missed the live events last week on Sept 25-26, they were all recorded and archived, so Amare Wellness Partners can find them in their back office library.

Last night, I gave an overview and recap of some of the Science topics that I covered in my presentations – which you can view below and also here on YouTube =

Why Success Won’t Make You Happy – The Atlantic

The pursuit of achievement distracts from the deeply ordinary activities and relationships that make life meaningful.
— Read on

This series by Arthur Brooks is truly astonishingly good – I consider it ‘required reading’ if you’re looking for meaning in life (which we all should be doing)…

How to Build a Life” is a biweekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.

Leaky Gut + Leaky Brain = Faster Aging?

Could imbalances in your gut be causing you to age faster?

How can natural therapies help to restore microbiome balance, gut integrity, and mental wellness?

Check out my latest video to learn how your gut, your brain, and your rate of aging are linked =

Your GUT is the link between mental wellness and physical health

A couple of weeks ago (Aug 28th), I gave a presentation at the 28th International Conference for Functional Foods – about how targeted functional foods and dietary supplements can help to improve BOTH mental wellness and physical health.

We used “depression” and “obesity” as our target conditions and we influenced both via the gut.

You can see a pre-recorded version of the presentation here =

You can see the “live” version of the presentation here =

Here is the Abstract and Introduction to our previously published paper:

Modulation of Gut-Brain Axis Improves Microbiome, Metabolism, and Mood

 Functional Foods in Health and Disease 2020; 10(1): 37-54. DOI: https:/

There is a close bidirectional relationship between overweight/obesity and depression, which may be largely modified through the microbiome and the gut-brain axis. Previous research has shown targeted weight loss effects and anti-depressive benefits of diets high in fiber and phy- tonutrients and low in sugar and processed foods. Thus, our objective was to determine changes in parameters common to both obesity and depression (e.g., microbiome balance, metabolic bi- omarkers, and psychological mood state) following a coordinated supplementation regimen com- bining probiotics, prebiotics, and phytonutrients (“phytobiotics”).

Methods: Thirty-three (33) healthy subjects participated in a 6-week supplementation trial (Amare “Project b3”) containing a targeted blend of probiotics, prebiotics, and phytobiotics. Microbiome balance was assessed in fecal samples using a novel PCR-based analysis (BiomeTracker) that has previously compared favorably to 16S sequencing. Biomarkers, including blood lipids, glucose, cortisol, and butyrate kinase, were assessed as indicators of effects on cardiovascular, inflamma- tory, and energy metabolism. Psychological mood state was assessed using the validated Profile of Mood States survey (POMS) to generate scores for Global Mood State and six sub-scales (De- pression, Tension, Fatigue, Anger, Confusion, and Vigor).

Results: Following supplementation, there was a significant increase in populations of “good” bacteria (+8% Bifidobacterium, +33% Lactobacillus, +62% S. Thermophilus, +90% Akkermansia) as well as bacterial ratios associated with a healthier “obesity-resistant” metabolism (+6% composite score, -11% Firmicutes, +6% Bacteroidetes, -14% F/B ratio). Metabolites associated with stress and glycemic control improved post-supplementation (-11% cortisol; +89% butyrate kinase, -6% glucose), as did body fat (-2%) and blood lipids (-8% total cholesterol, -5% LDL, +3% HDL, -23% triglycerides, -7% TC/HDL). Psychological indices were significantly improved post-supplementation for both positive (+17% Global Mood; +23% Vigor) and negative mood states (-38% Depression; -41% Tension; -42% Fatigue; -31% Confusion; -39% Anger).

Conclusions: These results demonstrate the close relationship between microbiome balance, sys- temic metabolism, and psychological parameters – and the utility of targeted supplementation to optimize gut-brain-axis balance for both improved metabolism and enhanced mental wellness.

Keywords: Obesity; Depression; Anxiety; Stress; Probiotics; Prebiotics; Diet; Supplement


Globally, more than 1.9 billion people struggle with overweight, while depression affects over 350 million people [1]. More than a decade has passed since the initial discovery of the close link between the gut microbiota and obesity [2, 3]. One of the predominant mechanisms underlying the microbiome/obesity relationship is the metabolic endotoxemia hypothesis, whereby an impaired or permeable gut barrier allows translocation of endotoxins from the gut lumen into systemic cir- culation, thereby leading to low-grade inflammation and metabolic disorders including obesity and diabetes.The gut microbiome is also closely linked to psychological mood states, including de- pression and anxiety, through multiple communication pathways, including neurotransmitters, the immune system, and the inflammatory cascade via the gut-brain axis [4]. Indeed, a close bi-direc- tional relationship between overweight and depression has repeatedly been established, whereby being overweight increases the risk of developing depression, and having depression increases the risk of becoming overweight [5, 6]. In addition, antidepressant medications often lead to weight gain [7], and dietary restriction for weight loss often exacerbates depression [8].

Probiotics are live micro-organisms that confer health benefits to the host [9], whereas prebi- otics are fibers that selectively improve the growth of beneficial gut microbes [10]. An emerging class of functional foods, termed “psychobiotics,” encompasses probiotics (bacteria), prebiotics (fibers), and phytobiotics (phytonutrients) that additionally confer psychological benefits related to mood and cognition [11]. A number of recent clinical trials have shown promising weight man- agement benefits of probiotics [12-15] and prebiotics [16, 17], as well as reductions in anxiety and depression with specific probiotic strains [18] and prebiotic fibers [19].

Because many prior studies in this area have examined “diseased” subjects (e.g., those with diagnosed “gut problems” such as irritable bowel syndrome, “metabolic problems” such as obesity or diabetes, or “psychological problems” such as major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder), this study aimed to determine the holistic benefits of a multi-ingredient functional food on microbiome balance, metabolic markers, and mood state in a population of normal weight,“healthy-stressed” adults.

National Suicide Prevention Week

Here is a video I did last night about some of the many safe and effective natural options to help reduce stress, calm anxiety, improve mood, and beat burnout =

From ( =

National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week – #KeepGoing

In the era of Covid-19, as we all try to protect our mental health and cope with uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that we be there for each other and take steps to prevent suicide. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to make a difference. There are simple things we can all do to safeguard our mental health, and you don’t have to do it alone. From learning the warning signs for suicide and what to do if you are worried someone is struggling, to advocating for smart suicide prevention legislation, to having a #RealConvo about your own or others’ mental health, to bringing education programs to your community, we can all learn new ways to help each other save lives. Together, we #KeepGoing.

The Mental Fitness Diet Book

Just a few minutes ago, I submitted the manuscript for my new book, The Mental Fitness Diet – Harnessing Our Three Brains to Maximize Mood, Motivation, and Mental Wellness.

Ten Chapters and almost 200 scientific references covering the entire Gut-Brain-Heart-Axis with practical approaches to using nutrition, movement, stress/sleep management, mindset, and supplements to improve mental fitness and physical health.

Due to the very long lead times of the publishing industry, we won’t expect to see The Mental Fitness Diet in print until September 2021 – but I expect that we’ll need it even more a year from now than we do today?

Until then, you can always see what “mental fitness” topics I’m writing about at my blog and talking about on YouTube.

Check out the Preface below to see why I wrote this one (my 14th book)…

Mental Fitness Diet – Preface

At no time in human history have we ever been so “advanced” technologically and yet so miserable psychologically.

It’s no exaggeration to describe stress, depression, anxiety, and burnout as epidemics – literally the “Black Plague” of our modern times.

We’ll get into the reasons underlying why we so terrible soon enough in the chapters to come. Suffice to say for now, that how you feel is not just in your head, it’s also in your gut, and your heart, and your immune system, and in many other places inside and outside the actual brain in your head.

I’ve been researching, speaking, and writing about the “Mental Fitness” topics covered in this book for more than twenty years, and I’ve written a dozen previous books on related topics.

I started writing this particular volume in early 2019 as a way to bring together some of the most exciting scientific breakthroughs around the “Gut-Brain-Heart-Axis” linking psychology, neurology, biochemistry, physiology, and microbiology into the emerging field of “nutritional psychology” (which is what a lot of people now refer to as the area of my expertise).

At the start of 2019, I really didn’t think that our collective mental wellness problems could get much worse. 

Boy, was I wrong!

National surveys showed that happiness and life satisfaction levels were at all-time lows, while depression, suicide, drug addiction, and use of prescription antidepressants and pain-killing opioids were at all-time highs.

And then COVID-19 hit.

At the end of 2019 and going into the first weeks of 2020, we began to see the emergence of COVID-19 and its subsequent spread around the globe to devastate health systems, economies, and individuals – both physically and mentally.

At this writing, more than 25 million COVID-19 cases with almost 900,000 deaths have been recorded worldwide – with more than 6 million cases and 180,000 deaths in the United States alone.

The COVID–19 pandemic resulted in more than half the world’s population being placed under different levels of quarantines and lockdowns to stem the spread of the virus. These restrictions in many nations are expected to significantly influence the physical and psychological well-being of everyone affected – and research studies are already showing a clear and consistent increase in mental health issues around the globe, particularly among adolescents and young adults. 

Some of the reasons underlying the increase in mental health problems are biological, some are psychological, and some are financial – but they all coalesce toward numerous predictions of a looming mental health crisis that was already bad and is only expected to get worse in a post-COVID world.

I hope you agree with me that there is no physical health without mental health. They are two sides of the same coin, and they are vital for each other and for our ability to reach our peak potential in this one life that we have to live.

We will cover many of these topics in The Mental Fitness Diet and how research-supported natural approaches can improve how we feel mentally and perform physically in every aspect of our daily lives.

Thanks for joining me.

Shawn Talbott

Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

August 31, 2020

The Coming Mental Wellness Crisis

I’ve been meaning to post – and highlight – two very good articles from last month…

Both articles address the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated quarantines – both suggesting that as bad as the stress and uncertainty of the actual pandemic might be, the residual mental wellness problems are likely to be even worse – and persist into the future for months and years to come.

The first on July 7 from The Atlantic and the second on July 6 from CNN (see direct links below)

This Is Not a Normal Mental-Health Disaster

If SARS is any lesson, the psychological effects of the novel coronavirus will long outlast the pandemic itself.

Original article by Jacob Stern on July 7, 2020 at =

The SARS pandemic tore through Hong Kong like a summer thunderstorm. It arrived abruptly, hit hard, and then was gone. Just three months separated the first infection, in March 2003, from the last, in June.

But the suffering did not end when the case count hit zero. Over the next four years, scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong discovered something worrisome. More than 40 percent of SARS survivors had an active psychiatric illness, most commonly PTSD or depression. Some felt frequent psychosomatic pain. Others were obsessive-compulsive. The findings, the researchers said, were “alarming.”

The novel coronavirus’s devastating hopscotch across the United States has long surpassed the three-month mark, and by all indications, it will not end anytime soon. If SARS is any lesson, the secondary health effects will long outlast the pandemic itself.

Already, a third of Americans are feeling severe anxiety, according to Census Bureau data, and nearly a quarter show signs of depression. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the pandemic had negatively affected the mental health of 56 percent of adults. In April, texts to a federal emergency mental-health line were up 1,000 percent from the year before. The situation is particularly dire for certain vulnerable groups—health-care workers, COVID-19 patients with severe cases, people who have lost loved ones—who face a significant risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. In overburdened intensive-care units, delirious patients are seeing chilling hallucinations. At least two overwhelmed emergency medical workers have taken their own life.

To some extent, this was to be expected. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence almost always surge after natural disasters. And the coronavirus is every bit as much a disaster as any wildfire or flood. But it is also something unlike any wildfire or flood. “The sorts of mental-health challenges associated with COVID-19 are not necessarily the same as, say, generic stress management or the interventions from wildfires,” says Steven Taylor, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia and the author of The Psychology of Pandemics (published, fortuitously, in October 2019). “It’s very different in important ways.”

Most people are resilient after disasters, and only a small percentage develop chronic conditions. But in a nation of 328 million, small percentages become large numbers when translated into absolute terms. And in a nation where, even under ordinary circumstances, fewer than half of the millions of adults with a mental illness receive treatment, those large numbers are a serious problem. A wave of psychological stress unique in its nature and proportions is bearing down on an already-ramshackle American mental-health-care system, and at the moment, Taylor told me, “I don’t think we’re very well prepared at all.”

Most disasters affect cities or states, occasionally regions. Even after a catastrophic hurricane, for example, normalcy resumes a few hundred miles away. Not so in a pandemic, says Joe Ruzek, a longtime PTSD researcher at Stanford University and Palo Alto University: “In essence, there are no safe zones any more.”

As a result, Ruzek told me, certain key tenets of disaster response no longer hold up. People cannot congregate at a central location to get help. Psychological first-aid workers cannot seek out strangers on street corners. To be sure, telemedicine has its advantages—it eliminates the logistical and financial burdens of transportation, and some people simply find it more comfortable—but it complicates outreach and can pose problems for older people, who have borne the brunt of the coronavirus.

A pandemic, unlike an earthquake or a fire, is invisible, and that makes it all the more anxiety-inducing. “You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, you just don’t know,” says Charles Benight, a psychology professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs who specializes in post-disaster recovery. “You look outside, and it seems fine.”

From spatial uncertainty comes temporal uncertainty. If we can’t know where we are safe, then we can’t know when we are safe. When a wildfire ends, the flames subside and the smoke clears. “You have an event, and then you have the rebuild process that’s really demarcated,” Benight told me. “It’s not like a hurricane goes on for a year.” But pandemics do not respect neat boundaries: They come in waves, ebbing and flowing, blurring crisis into recovery. One month, New York flares up and Arizona is calm. The next, the opposite.

That ambiguity could make it harder for people to be resilient. “It’s sort of like running down a field to score a goal, and every 10 yards they move the goal,” Benight said. “You don’t know what you’re targeting.” In this sense, Ruzek said, someone struggling with the psychological effects of the pandemic is less like a fire survivor than a domestic-violence victim still living with her abuser, or a traumatized soldier still deployed overseas. Mental-health professionals can’t reassure them that the danger has passed, because the danger has not passed. One can understand why, in a May survey by researchers at the University of Chicago, 42 percent of respondents reported feeling hopeless at least one day in the past week.  

A good deal of this uncertainty was inevitable. Pandemics, after all, are confusing. But coordinated, cool-headed, honest messaging from government officials and public-health experts would have gone a long way toward allaying undue anxiety. The World Health Organization, for all the good it has done to contain the virus, has repeatedly bungled the communications side of the crisis. Last month, a WHO official claimed that asymptomatic spread of the virus is “very rare”—only to clarify the next day, after a barrage of criticism from outside public-health experts, that “we don’t actually have that answer yet.” In February, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans to prepare for “disruption to everyday life that may be severe,” then, just days later, said, “The American public needs to go on with their normal lives,” then went mostly dark for the next three months. Health experts are not without blame either: Their early advice about masks was “a case study in how not to communicate with the public,” wrote Zeynep Tufekci, an information-science professor at the University of North Carolina and an Atlantic contributing writer.

The White House, for its part, has repeatedly contradicted the states, the CDC, and itself. The president has used his platform to spread misinformation. In a moment when public health—which is to say, tens of thousands of lives—depends on national unity and clear messaging, the pandemic has become a new front in the partisan culture wars. Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me that “political and social marginalization can exacerbate the psychological impacts of the pandemic.”

Schoch-Spana has previously written about the 1918 influenza pandemic. Lately, she says, people have been asking her how the coronavirus compares. She is always quick to point out a crucial difference: When the flu emerged in America at the end of a brutal winter, the nation was mobilized for war. Relative unity prevailed, and a spirit of collective self-sacrifice was in the air. At the time, the U.S. was reckoning with its enemies. Now we are reckoning with ourselves.

One thing that is certain about the current pandemic is that we are not doing enough to address its mental-health effects. Usually, says Joshua Morganstein, the chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster, the damage a disaster does to mental health ends up costing more than the damage it does to physical health. Yet of the $2 trillion that Congress allocated for pandemic relief through the CARES Act, roughly one-50th of 1 percent—or $425 million—was earmarked for mental health. In April, more than a dozen mental-health organizations called on Congress to apportion $38.5 billion in emergency funding to protect the nation’s existing treatment infrastructure, plus an additional $10 billion for pandemic response.

Without broad, systematic studies to gauge the scope of the problem, though, it will be hard to determine with any precision either the appropriate amount of funding or where that funding is needed. Taylor told me that “governments are throwing money at this problem at the moment without really knowing how big a problem it will be.”

In addition to studies assessing the scope of the problem, which demographics most need help, and what kind of help they need, Ruzek told me researchers should assess how well intervention efforts are working. Even in ordinary times, he said, we don’t do enough of that. Such studies are especially important now because, until recently, disaster mental-health protocols for pandemics were an afterthought. By necessity, researchers are designing and implementing them all at once.

“Disaster mental-health workers have never been trained in anything about this,” Ruzek said. “They don’t know what to say.”

Even so, the basic principles will be the same. Disaster mental-health specialists often talk about the five core elements of intervention—calming, self-efficacy, connectedness, hope, and a sense of safety—and those apply now as much as ever. At an organizational level, the response will depend on extensive screening, which is to the mental-health side of the pandemic roughly what testing is to the physical-health side. In disaster situations—and especially in this one—the people in need of mental-health support vastly outnumber the people who can supply it. So disaster psychologists train armies of volunteers to provide basic support and identify people at greater risk of developing long-term problems.

“There are certain things that we can still put into place for people based on what we’ve learned about what’s helpful for PTSD and for depression and for anxiety, but we have to adjust it a bit,” says Patricia Watson, a psychologist at the National Center for PTSD. “This is a different dance than the dance that we’ve had for other types of disasters.”

Some states have moved quickly to learn the new steps. In Colorado, Benight is helping to train volunteer resilience coaches to support members of their community and, when necessary, refer them to formal crisis-counseling programs. His team has also worked with volunteers in 31 states, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

Colorado’s approach is not the sort of rigorously tested, evidence-based model to which Ruzek said disaster psychologists should aspire. Then again, “we’re sitting here with not a lot of options,” says Matthew Boden, a research scientist in the Veterans Health Administration’s mental-health and suicide-prevention unit. “Something is better than nothing.”

In any case, the full extent of the fallout will not come into focus for some time. Psychological disorders can be slow to develop, and as a result, the Textbook of Disaster Psychiatry, which Morganstein helped write, warns that demand for mental-health care may spike even as a pandemic subsides. “If history is any indicator,” Morganstein says of COVID-19, “we should expect a significant tail of mental-health effects, and those could be extraordinary.” Taylor worries that the virus will cause significant upticks in obsessive-compulsive disorder, agoraphobia, and germaphobia, not to mention possible neuropsychiatric effects, such as chronic fatigue syndrome.

The coronavirus may also change the way we think about mental health more broadly. Perhaps, Schoch-Spana says, the prevalence of pandemic-related psychological conditions will have a destigmatizing effect. Or perhaps it will further ingrain that stigma: We’re all suffering, so can’t we all just get over it? Perhaps the current crisis will prompt a rethinking of the American mental-health-care system. Or perhaps it will simply decimate it.

In 2013, reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the SARS pandemic, newspapers in Hong Kong described a city scarred by plague. When COVID-19 arrived there seven years later, they did so again. SARS had traumatized that city, but it had also prepared it. Face masks had become commonplace. People used tissues to press elevator buttons. Public spaces were sanitized and resanitized. In New York City, COVID-19 has killed more than 22,600 people; in Hong Kong, a metropolis of nearly the same size, it has killed seven. The city has learned from its scars.

America, too, will bear the scars of plague. Maybe next time, we will be the ones who have learned.

Here’s the best way to take care of your mental health during the pandemic

Opinion by Vivek H. Murthy and Alice T. Chen on July 6, 2020 at =

Vivek H. Murthy served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States and is the author of New York Times bestseller Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. 

Alice T. Chen is an internal medicine physician and served as the executive director of Doctors for America from 2011 to 2017.

As the US grapples with Covid-19, its economic fallout, and the continuing anguish of racial injustice, many of us are struggling with our mental health. A Census Bureau survey found that one in three Americans are now reporting symptoms of depression or anxiety — more than three times the rate from a similar survey conducted in the first half of 2019.

It is no surprise that times of crisis affect our well-being. People experience mental health challenges due to economic downturns, natural disasters or other collective traumas. The surge in Covid-19 cases earlier this year may explain why a federal crisis hotline experienced an 891% increase in calls in March compared to the same period last year.

To make matters worse, a critical way for us to reduce the spread of the virus is to physically distance ourselves from others — our family, friends, coworkers, and communities. This is exacerbating the already widespread problem of loneliness, which is deeply harmful to both our mental and physical health.

The tragic deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police — and the ensuing fight for racial justice — have added another layer of distress that is further compounded by the fact that African Americans and Latino Americans are three times as likely to get Covid-19 and twice as likely to die from it.

They are also more likely to have essential jobs that cannot be done from home and put them at higher risk of Covid-19 infection. As the US now sees infections and hospitalizations surging in new communities, the mental distress of it all will only continue.

Those of us who are not experiencing severe acute symptoms from the stress of the moment are still affected in other ways. We may find we are more tired than usual and more likely to lose our tempers. We may eat more junk food and find it harder to concentrate at work and school.

How can we address this wave of pain and mental stress that is washing over so many of us? To be sure, we must address the immediate challenges before us by organizing an effective response to the pandemic, providing financial help for those who are struggling and offering empathetic leadership to confront the systemic racism that has so long disfigured our country.

This time has also highlighted the urgent need to overhaul our broken mental health system, where only 43% of people who needed help received any treatment in 2017.

This means making mental health services more widely available through telemedicine and in-person visits; ensuring that insurance companies truly pay for mental health services on par with physical health services; expanding funding for suicide prevention; addressing persistent workforce shortages by training more mental health professionals; and reducing the stigma that keeps so many from seeking help.

But there is a more fundamental obstacle to our mental health and well-being that is harder to see but essential to confront. In our fast-paced, mobile, and globalized world, we have allowed one of our most treasured sources of safety, resilience, and health to weaken and fray: our relationships with one another.

Over the last five decades, the US has experienced a decline in social capital — the network of social relationships, grounded in shared values and norms, that give us a sense of community and support. We have fewer close friends. We belong to fewer communal associations and places of worship. We have less trust in each other.

Loneliness is surprisingly common, especially amongst adolescents and young adults. The physical distancing and isolation of Covid-19 — in addition to the recent flare of police brutality and racial injustice — threaten to exacerbate the sense of separation between people at a moment when we need more social support.

This has serious consequences for our health. Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety as well as heart disease, premature death and dementia. It is also associated with a shorter lifespan. One study found that the mortality impact associated with loneliness is similar to that observed with smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

On a societal level, our weakened connections can make it harder for us to have honest conversations across political and social divides, which in turn makes it tougher to come together to address daunting challenges like inequality, climate change and a global pandemic.

There is a way we can use this moment of extraordinary pain and stress to improve our mental and physical health: we must rebuild and reprioritize our relationships with one another. Doing this demands that we re-orient the cultural lenses through which we see ourselves and each other.

The values of consumer society (efficiency, wealth, professional success) and social media (sensationalism, us-vs-them rhetoric, curating one’s life to seem perfect) are not working for us. This often leaves us feeling inadequate and unworthy, which in turn makes it harder for us to be open and vulnerable with others — key ingredients to building healthy, strong relationships.

Instead, we must find ways to elevate our more enduring values — kindness, honesty, courage, self-sacrifice — and reflect these in our decisions and in the way we define success.

Do we measure the potential of our children by their test scores or whether they make others feel seen and loved? Do we measure our success by how much we have, whether that’s more status, more wealth, more likes and retweets? Or do we celebrate our efforts to build strong families and communities that work better for everyone?

During this time when so many are struggling, there are small steps we can take that can make a big difference. 

These simple actions can change our lives for the better. When this action is taken collectively, it can help build a people-centered culture.

We can start by thinking of one person in our lives who may be frightened or lonely and making an effort to support them, whether that’s lending a listening ear or offering to bring them a home-cooked meal.

We can build uninterrupted time with loved ones into our days (even 15 minutes can make a difference). 

We can put away our devices and give people our full attention during conversations. 

We can seek out opportunities to serve those around us, recognizing that service is a powerful antidote to loneliness.

As stressful as the pandemic has been and as many lives as the virus has devastated, it may provide us an opportunity to reassess our lived values and reprioritize our relationships with one another.

Many Americans are rediscovering the richness of nightly family dinners and more time spent with children — as challenging as that can be at times — leading some of them to question whether our highly scheduled lives are always worth the trade-off.

King Arthur Flour, which established its Baker’s Hotline in 1993, has seen a surge in phone calls from people who are reaching out for baking advice. Some are simply calling to chat with a real person, which gives us a glimpse into what we lose when we replace in-person interactions with web searches.

We have spoken with managers who found that seeking to understand the hardships their staff faced at home and establishing ways for employees to ask for and receive help from one another is helping build a thriving and productive workplace, challenging the notion that we’re better off when we rigidly separate our personal and work lives.

Better policies are essential to improving our mental health and well-being. But policy ultimately flows from the culture and values that shape our decisions. This is our moment to re-center our lives and our country around a simple but powerful credo: put people first. Covid-19 is our opportunity to recommit to one another, to recognize that human connection is the foundation for greater health, resilience and fulfillment.

Addiction Recovery – a New Approach

I recently started serving in an advisory board role for an addiction recovery program called Ampelis Recovery. 

Mental health concerns and addictions are impacting far too many of our loved ones, friends, and colleagues. 

There is a tremendous need in our society for better solutions to help individuals and families battling these issues. 

I feel honored to play a part in finding better answers with a team that is utilizing new approaches with superior outcomes.  

If you know anyone who needs help, please consider a conversation with the team at Ampelis Recovery (   

You can also reach out to me directly and I would be glad to facilitate an introduction.