During challenging times, caring for one’s mental health is essential

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy listens during a hearing with the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on June 8, 2023, in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing to discuss the mental health crisis for youth in the United States. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)

These are difficult, often frightening, times.

Nobody knows better than we who cover the news that it’s difficult to be confronted with the worst of humanity day in and day out. There are awful people doing awful things on a daily basis, and it can take a tremendous toll to absorb that ugliness and violence and harm.


That’s why we’d urge everyone to take a break, even if only for 15 minutes. Turn off your phone. Sit in the sunshine. Be quiet and calm. Recharge. Try to find a moment of peace.

The weekend’s events in Israel are the latest reminder that the forces of evil are determined and unrelenting, but also that the scenes of horror are never far from reach in our interconnected world.

Reports of indiscriminate rocket attacks and the deliberate targeting of civilians by Hamas forces, followed by the swift and violent Israeli response, were available instantaneously via social media platforms — terror beamed directly into the palm of your hand.

Though one need not look beyond the borders of Hampton Roads to be confronted with terrible events — acts of violence, political acrimony, a worsening climate, economic hardship, unfathomable inhumanity. These lead the news, not because they’re good for ratings (contrary to popular belief), but because they are notable. They are outliers in communities where good things happen every day, though they may not get the attention they deserve.

There’s a term for endlessly reading bad news on social media — doom scrolling — and medical experts believe it’s having a deleterious effect on the nation’s mental health. The American Psychiatric Society reported in December that “nearly two out of five (37%) Americans rated their mental health as only fair or poor. The United States has recorded a 16% increase in suicides from 2011 to 2022 and a drop in average life expectancy from 79 in 2019 to 76 in 2021.

The United States recorded about 50,000 suicides in 2022, a 2.6% increase over the previous year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an estimated 12.3 million thought about suicide in 2021, and that 1.7 million adults attempted it.

At a conference last month at Dartmouth College, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy and six of his predecessors gathered to discuss the nation’s mental health crisis. They highlighted barriers to access and the disconnected network of mental health services that can make it challenging to get help to people who need it.

But they also zeroed in on social media creating feelings of sadness, hopelessness and depression, especially among young people. In addition to improving health care access and services, they stressed the need to build stronger, more supportive communities.

Murthy worries that people see the worst of others in the events around them, and come to believe that’s an accurate reflection of society.

“I think we’re actually more grounded in the core values of kindness and generosity, of service and friendship. I think that’s what we want,” Murthy said.

To be there for others — to provide the sort of support and compassion that helps those in turmoil and models positive behavior for kids — we have to first care for ourselves. And at a time of international conflict, domestic unrest and unspeakable horrors done by one group against another, that can begin simply — by turning off your phone, setting aside the news for a few minutes and taking time to be at peace.

Those who are having trouble coping, and for whom a few minutes of calm is insufficient, please reach out for help — to a family member, a friend or a medical professional. Dial the suicide hotline at 988 if you feel like you’re a danger to yourself and need help immediately.

The challenges before us are immense and they require our attention and concern. We should be engaged, informed and working to build more just and supportive communities.

But everyone also has to make an investment in their well-being, time that can make a lasting difference in your life and the lives of others.