LA CROSSE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – The CDC says one in five people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, but the pandemic is creating more mental health challenges.

First News at Nine’s Alex Loroff takes us through the ongoing struggles with mental health.

Experts in the Coulee region are making an effort to combat the stigma associated with mental health issues.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but La Crosse YMCA Mental Health Director Sarah Johnson believes that spotlight should shine all year.

“Mental health is how we think, feel, and act, we all have mental health,” Johnson said. “We would argue that every day should be mental health awareness day because we’re always thinking, feeling, and acting as humans.”

The CDC says one in five people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, with the pandemic creating even more mental health challenges.

Gundersen Health System Psychiatrist Neil Brahmbhatt says the pandemic has increased feelings of isolation, which can escalate into greater mental health problems.

“I think when isolation is beyond what is normally expected it’s something to really look out for whether it’s in one’s self or in others including loved ones, friends, and family,” Brahmbhatt said.

While the pandemic may have exacerbated mental health struggles, Johnson thinks there is hope on the horizon.

“Humans are resilient, and so while this has had a very tremendous impact and a very long-lasting impact for some, humans can heal and recover,” Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Brahmbhatt say it’s crucial for anyone feeling increased anxiety or depression to reach out to friends and family, or to call their doctor for possible treatment options.

More resources can also be found at the mental health section of the La Crosse YMCA’s website.

The overall message for those dealing with mental health struggles is one of resilience and reassurance.

“While what you’re feeling may be a deep sense of hopelessness, know that it’s temporary and that there is help,” Brahmbhatt said.

“In our struggles, it’s very difficult to believe that help is out there,” Johnson said. “It’s very difficult to see beyond our struggle, so even if you’re feeling that way there are so many different things we can do to help support recovery and healing for people.”

In La Crosse, Alex Loroff, First News at Nine.

Anyone experiencing severe anxiety or depression is urged to reach out to friends and family or to contact their doctor for treatment options.