Mental Health Awareness in the Age of COVID-19

In early 2020, news about a strange virus began to slowly trickle into the American consciousness. The story picked up speed at an alarming rate, and before we knew it, the world shut down. As store shelves emptied, schools and businesses closed, and we all got word that it was time to shelter at home, self-care quickly got left in the dust.

Mental health during the rise of COVID-19 is a sensitive subject, but it’s also one that’s vitally important.

Here are a few things to look out for as we continue to cope with the pandemic, some resources that may help, and a way to find a silver lining amongst it all.

1. The Correlation Between COVID Spread and Mental Health Concerns

There has long been a widely recognized link between exercise and our overall well-being. Socialization is just as important. Experts from the Mayo Clinic say that humans are naturally social animals and being forced to spend a lot of time alone can lead to everything from

  • an increased risk of depression
  • falling cognitive skills.
  • In other words, isolation can make you feel sad, mentally fuzzy, and even shorten your lifespan.

One KFF Tracking Poll found that as of mid-July 2020, a staggering 53% of adults in the United States felt that stress and worry over COVID-19 had negatively impacted their mental health.

That number represents a more than 20% jump over the 32% reported in March.

Even more interestingly, those who were sheltering in place reported more negative mental health effects than those who were still going out and about (47% to 37%).

2. Mental Health Awareness and Job Loss

It’s a given that concerns over the health of loved ones could cause distress, but the shutdowns also left a lot of people out of work.

As of July, nearly 17 million Americans were unemployed, and about half of those (some 9.6 million) couldn’t work because their place of business was either closed partially or fully because of the pandemic. Even some places that were able to open their doors couldn’t generate enough revenue to welcome back their entire staff.

Consider this statement by the Canadian Mental Health Association:
When you lose your job, not only is your usual source of income gone, but also your personal work relationships, daily structures, and an important sense of self-purpose. Unemployment can be, and often is, a shock to your whole system.

The CMHA goes on to compare job loss to a serious injury, divorce, and grief. People experience the same feelings of stress, denial, anger, and overwhelming sadness.

Then, of course, come the financial concerns. A recent NPR poll of people in America’s four largest cities found widespread financial devastation, with many of the problems disproportionately affecting Black and Latino communities.

In Houston, for example, more than three-fourths of Latino and Black households reported serious financial problems due to the coronavirus pandemic, and those numbers were echoed in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

3. What to Look For

Mental health concerns can creep up on us when we least expect it. You may think you have a grip on everything that’s going on, and suddenly the mask slips (no pun intended). This may be especially true of children who are being homeschooled and kept from their normal activity-filled routines. Restricting social visits and contact with loved ones takes a toll on us all.

The first step to supporting ourselves and those we love is to look out for signs that things may be amiss.

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling listless
  • Increase in aches and pains
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Disinterest in activities that used to bring joy
  • Feelings of sadness, irritability, anxiety, fear, and/or hopelessness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Repetitive thoughts
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feelings of overwhelm
  • Risky behavior such as turning to gambling, drinking, or drugs
  • Suicidal thoughts

4. It’s Always a Good Time to Ask For Help

It’s both ironic and concerning that the availability of mental health services has dropped when we need it the most. Organizational closures may mean it takes longer to get an appointment with a psychologist, and mental health services that were already chronically underfunded now find themselves further strained. Still, things are far from hopeless.

If you or someone you know is struggling, there are people waiting to help. The CDC has an extensive list of resources available to anyone who could use a helping hand during the pandemic and beyond. Here are a few of those recommendations as well as others:

5. Self-Care Strategies

Aside from professional organizations, there are some things we can do to help ourselves feel better (suggest these to your friends and family too!):

  • Try to create and stick to a routine including sleeping at a regular time and getting dressed every day, even if you don’t have anywhere to be.
  • Get outside and soak up the sun — or at least some fresh air. Stay-at-home orders don’t extend to your backyard or usually public spaces like parks and hiking trails, so take full advantage.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and junk food and load up on healthy grub and water instead.
  • Balance Netflix and chill with time spent reading good books, Skyping with friends, and learning that hobby you’ve had on the backburner for years.
  • Relax. Whether that means bubble baths, mediation, or putting together puzzles, just make time to relax.

5. Your Silver Lining

It may feel like it’s awfully hard to ferret out the good parts of 2020, but they’re there. In fact, you’re one of them. Every time you reach out to someone to  see if they’re okay or grab food and sanitizer for an elderly neighbor who can’t mask up and go to the grocery store, you’re a hero.

Teaching your kids at home?

Sticking it out as an essential worker?

Take time to appreciate what’s still good. “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” – Stanley Kubrick


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