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Nearly Half of Americans Feel They Have Lost Time Due to Poor Mental Health

Nearly Half of Americans Feel They Have Lost Time Due to Poor Mental Health

This material has been reviewed for accuracy by: Renee Albers, PhD

Courtney Nugent took a leave of absence from work when a mental health crisis sent her spiraling, but was able to return to teaching high school English after finding a medication that helped her.The results of the latest GeneSight® Mental Health Monitor survey demonstrate that mental health struggles can rob us of our most precious and fundamental resource: time. According to the nationwide survey, 44% of Americans feel they have lost time as a result of poor mental health. For those diagnosed with anxiety or depression, it goes up to 80%, roughly half of whom feel as though they haven’t just lost hours or days, but years of their lives, with 12% saying they’ve lost decades.

Courtney Nugent became so consumed by her anxiety that she took a leave of absence from her work as a high school English teacher and even postponed her wedding. She described the exhausting daily struggle and how she experienced the accumulation of lost time:

“If you think about a whole day, and every minute of that day you have to make a conscious decision to advocate for yourself instead of killing yourself…that’s a LOT of minutes, and that’s a lot of days, and that’s a lot of months. My mental health crisis was six months on paper, but for every second of every day, I was fighting to stay alive. That’s time I can’t get back.”

Losing time and so much more

To understand the true cost of lost time, it’s helpful to remember that time is more than just minutes or hours; it’s possibility. It’s the potential for connection, the opportunity to pursue hobbies, or simply the chance to live a “normal” life. And losing time means missing out on those possibilities.

“Every minute of every day, when you’re trying to struggle to stay alive, how do you have relationships?” Nugent wondered. “I can’t go back to work. I can’t plan my wedding. I can’t see my friends. I can’t exercise. I can’t eat. I can’t do anything that a normal person would.”

The GeneSight Mental Health Monitor survey also found that more than 50% of respondents diagnosed with anxiety or depression said that poor mental health caused them to miss a major life event, which can contribute to negative feelings and even worse mental well-being.

Sharon Philbin*, an advanced practice registered nurse in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, described how her patients experience this vicious cycle: “When they’re feeling like they’re losing time with family, friends, events, even self-care, it just spirals them down more and they feel even worse,” she said. “That contributes to them feeling like they’ve lost time, and then they just worry more about that and it just escalates.”

There, but not present

For those who do manage to continue going about their daily lives, the effects of depression and anxiety can nonetheless take them out of the present. This fixation on the past or future at the expense of presence in the moment may be equated to mentally time travelling, according to an article in Psychology Today.

The article states, “Many of us can’t seem to stop our minds from racing forward to fixate over what could go wrong or backward into rumination over what has gone wrong.”

Of note, 71% of respondents to the Mental Health Monitor survey said their mental health has kept them from being fully present when attending important events. 78% said that poor mental health prevented them from “having fun/enjoying myself” in the past year, which increases to 82% for those diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression.

Even relatively good times can be difficult to enjoy for those diagnosed with anxiety and depression, many of whom fear that another episode may be just around the corner.

“Many of my patients say they are thankful they feel better,” said Philbin, “but they worry it will happen again.”

Losing more time to medication trial and error

Constantly feeling that time is slipping away is a common experience for those with mental health struggles, and living through months or even years of trial and error to find effective medications is, unfortunately, quite common as well.

Dr. Kyle John*, a child psychiatrist, likened this process to “throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks.” Finding effective medications that don’t cause debilitating side effects can be frustrating and time consuming, and moving on to a new medication or augmenting medication treatment doesn’t necessarily lead to a successful outcome.

In fact, according to the STAR*D trial, the percentage of patients who may achieve depression remission decreases with each additional medication trial after the initial trial, with about 37% achieving remission with the first medication trial, 31% with the second, 14% for the third, and 13% with the fourth.

How GeneSight may be able to help providers and patients minimize lost time

After two in-patient hospitalizations, an extensive outpatient program, and six months lost to chronic anxiety, Courtney Nugent recalled the moment when she saw a glimmer of hope.

“I remember [my mental health care provider] said, ‘You might feel like you don’t know what’s going to happen and like this has been an endless, terrible nightmare, but I know that I can help you.’”

Courtney’s provider used results from the GeneSight test to help inform her treatment plan, and the provider explained how her genetics may have played a role in her previous experiences with certain medications.

“With my results in hand, she informed me that an SSRI may not have been a good option for me and that I am a rapid metabolizer — so the medications may not be staying in my system long enough to work,” she said.

Photo of Sharon Philbin, an advance practice registered nurse, taking vitals during an interview about how she uses the GeneSight test to help her patients with depression and anxiety.Sharon Philbin, APRN, also orders the GeneSight test for her patients,  using it to understand how they may metabolize or respond to certain medications based on their genetics.

“GeneSight has been one of the tools I’ve used to help my patients feel better and take control of lost time so that those living with anxiety or depression can enjoy their lives,” she said.

Philbin continued, “It’s simple and it’s easy and it’s effective. And it increases clients’ confidence in treatment and can improve their adherence to treatment.”

“[My provider] prescribed a new medication based partly on the results of my GeneSight report,” Nugent said. “After some time, I began to feel like myself again. Now, I am back at the job I love and planning my wedding. I do not think I would be alive without the GeneSight test.”

Since finding relief for her anxiety, Courtney has a newfound appreciation for her ability to do — and enjoy — the simple things she’d been missing, like going to concerts, going to the movies, or just watching TV. She’s living proof that lost time can be reclaimed.

“I have a quote from Hamlet that says, ‘This above all; to thine own self be true,’” she says of her favorite tattoo. “It’s to show that your story goes on and that you are allowed to be true to yourself and advocate for yourself and share your story because it’s an important one.”

  • Neither Sharon Philbin nor Kyle John treat Courtney Nugent.


Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.

The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.

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