Miami Needs to Talk About Mental Health

May 1, 2019


We’ve heard that the grass is always greener on the other side. Similarly, those who bear the frigid temperatures of winter can only imagine how nice it must be to live in somewhere warm and sunny year-round, say, Florida. Maybe those in Florida long for snowy nights. As mentioned earlier: the grass is always greener.

But for those who left colder temps for sandy beaches, that’s not always the case. Minhae Shim Roth of the Miami New Times said she moved to Miami in hopes of helping her depression with some sunshine. While the Magic City is known for its sunny skies and fun times, Roth points out that living in Miami is not always all it’s cracked up to be.

It’s easy to ask yourself, how could anyone get depressed in a place like Miami? From South Beach to the city’s exciting nightlife, it seems like nothing could go wrong. Roth wants to remind people that that is not always the case and that someone living in a place like Miami can still suffer from various mental health conditions. There are a few misconceptions and conditions that allow people to underestimate mental wellness in Miami:

  • Warm weather and happiness levels
  • Constant fun times
  • Lack of mental health professionals

Because of Miami’s reputation, people may not be as open to mental health as people of other cities would be. This is potentially problematic, and it’s worth entering a discussion about the status of mental health in Miami.

Chairs and umbrella on the beach
Just because someone’s living under the sun doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t susceptible to depression.

Warm Weather and Happiness Levels

One reason that mental health in Miami is so hush-hush is because of the weather. With sunny days, how could anyone be depressed?

For one thing, it does make sense that people have this assumption. Studies continue to show that there are a few different ways that sunlight works to contribute to a happy mind, such as:

  • Melatonin. With less exposure to daylight comes less melatonin production, which is a light-dependent hormone that induces sleep. During winter days when it gets dark earlier, the body may start producing melatonin at a time earlier than it normally would, causing certain mood changes.
  • Serotonin. Higher levels of serotonin tend to relate to happier moods, while lower levels of this neurotransmitter lead to higher anxiety and depression levels. An Australian study showed that sunny days resulted in higher serotonin levels than that of cloudier days.

The presence of studies like this can cause people to have false assumptions about the populations of warmer locations. Although it can be easier to think that people living in a place like Miami have the science of sunshine on their side, there have been a few different studies showing that warmer climate doesn’t always lead to increased happiness or mental wellness.

  • United Kingdom. The UK’s well-being statistics in 2016 showed that happiness and warmer temperatures may not be as well connected. That year, the happiest regions in the UK included Shetland, Orkney, and the Outer Hebrides, which are northern islands that receive over 300 hours less of sunlight compared to the UK average.
  • California. A 1998 study compared the happiness of people in Southern California compared to those of people living in the Midwest, which came from the perception of California as a desirable place to live due to its warm climate. The study found that Californians weren’t happier than Widwesterners and that residents listed weather as having a limited effect on happiness.
  • Miami. Yes, the Magic City itself! The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 563,000 adults living in Florida struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past year, but a number like this isn’t unique to a sunny climate. According to that same report, 591,000 adults in New York had suicidal thoughts in the past year.

Just because someone is living in a warmer climate doesn’t necessarily mean that their mental wellness will respond accordingly.

With this in mind, there exists a mental illness called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is when depressive symptoms peak during the winter months. These symptoms—including decreased interest, suicidal thoughts, and low energy—often present themselves at the beginning of the season, but tend to worsen as the days get shorter and fall/winter progresses.

Increased sunlight has shown to be beneficial for many who suffer with this condition, but that is clearly not always the case. The expected happiness levels people of warmer climates are expected to maintain exists as a burden on actual happiness. People in Miami can be less likely to seek help for their mental health because they feel that they should be happier due to the warm temperatures. An expectation like this is harmful for those people living in places like Miami, because the research has shown that weather doesn’t play as much into happiness as some people may believe.

Concert audience
Miami may be known for its party culture, but it’s not always as hedonic as pop-culture makes it out to be.

Plenty of things to do

Miami is certainly known to be a southern destination for a few reasons, each explaining why the city expects around 14 million tourists each year. There’s plenty of things to do in Miami, including South Beach and nearby Ocean Drive.

South Beach is a destination in itself. There’s the amazingly warm and clear blue ocean and the stylish culture of the area that make South Beach a lovely place to visit, in addition to its reasonably priced bar and restaurant scene.

Then there’s Miami’s most famous street, Ocean Drive. The architecture was inspired by 1920s and ’30s trends and the street itself is lined with culture. After taking a historical tour, there are plenty of places nearby to grab a meal or a drink.

According to Roth, “Miami is hailed for its hedonism,” meaning that people of the city supposedly love to engage in somewhat reckless behaviors associated with the party lifestyle. While there are plenty of things to do in Miami, popular culture has given others the idea that Miami is a place where someone goes to party and have fun.

With these ideas in mind, it’s easy to question how anyone can be mentally unwell in a place like Miami, similar to the misconceptions on warm weather and happiness. Just because Miami has a reputation of being all party all the time, that isn’t necessarily true, and it shouldn’t be something that should be keeping people from being healthy. These perceptions can also cause people in Miami who are suffering from depression or anxiety to not seek help for their conditions because they are expected to constantly be having fun in a warm, sunny city.

Girl sitting on rock looking at the ocean
While Miami certainly isn’t lacking in gorgeous skies, the city does appear to have a shortage of mental health professionals.

Lack of Mental Health Professionals

If someone living in Miami was suffering from depression or anxiety, it makes sense why she may be nervous to seek professional help. The warm weather or apparent party culture could convince someone that there really is nothing to be upset about, and that she shouldn’t be anxious because she is living in a warm and exciting place.

Even if someone progressed pass this potential doubt from the lack of mental health awareness in Miami, she would face another kind of problem: a shortage of places to go for help.

Roth spoke with Stephen McLeod-Bryant, a psychiatry professor from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. McLeod-Bryant explained this problem: “Florida, in general, has a very fragmented system of mental healthcare with sparse supply of evidence-based psychosocial and behavioral health services.”

Roth and McLeod-Bryant explained mental health services are limited due to understaffing and underfunding. Professionals are working to make up for this shortage, but the system is not yet satisfactory.

It’s can be frustrating to think about the burdens placed upon those suffering from mental health issues in Miami due to a lack of discussion, but then think of how these conditions could worsen by a lack of accessible mental health providers. Then one is faced with the already existing problems of healthcare, such as costs and insurance as well as wait times.

While Miami could step up in its discussion of mental health, it’s important to not undermine what you’re going through. It can be extremely hurtful to get carried away by the should bes: how you should be feeling, what you should be doing. Unfortunately, these thoughts can be worsened by the preconceived notions of others.

If you think you are someone you know may be suffering from anxiety or depression, speak to a mental healthcare provider as soon as possible. If it is a mental health emergency, call 911. Try not to let thoughts of how you should be feeling get in the way of taking care of yourself and your mental health.

Is there anywhere else you see problems like this occurring? Let us know in the comments!

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