Like many others, I have deeply felt the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic. While the majority of the epidemic’s effects have been negative, I started to wonder if it was possible that something positive had come from it. More specifically, I wanted to see if COVID-19 had managed to change the mental health stage for the better.
For years, advocates have been fighting to break the stigma surrounding mental illness, and it seems that COVID-19 is pushing forward this goal at an accelerating rate. What is stigma? Stigma is the negative association or disapproval of someone with a specific characteristic; in this case, good or bad mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, the harmful effects of stigma include creating a reluctance to seek help or treatment, fewer opportunities for work, school, or social activities, bullying, physical violence, harassment, and the feeling of low self-worth. Each of these outcomes can negatively impact a person and can hold them back from reaching out for help, endangering their life.
Breaking the stigma surrounding mental health is crucial to save lives and get individuals the help that they need. The pandemic that we are all living in can cause an overwhelming amount of stress, from the constant flow of scary news cycles to worrying about your family’s health, worrying about your job security, and so on. When your mental wellbeing is already in jeopardy, and you blend COVID-19 into the mix, it can exacerbate symptoms. Likewise, when your brain is exposed to a new kind of stress like COVID-19, it can cause the beginning of mental illness.
Recently, there has been a spike in calls to crisis hotlines across the nation. This news has spread to reporting agencies, social media, mental health providers, and NGOs. As such, many organizations have increased their efforts to bring awareness of mental health and break the stigma in the hopes that people will ask for help if they need it. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), which is tasked with protecting “America from health, safety, and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S,” is one of the organizations that has taken on the task of spreading awareness. As such, the CDC has dedicated an entire webpage to coping with stress and providing information on mental health services as well as crisis hotlines. The CDC’s and other organizations’ efforts could be the exact push needed to normalize conversations about mental health, something that we have been waiting for decades to see.
If you are like me, you probably heard the news about the increase in mental illnesses and thought, “that won’t happen to me.” Many people have this exact reaction and honestly believe that coronavirus will not affect them; this can cloud their judgment. During normal times, one in five Americans experiences a mental illness. In a country with a population of 328.2 million, that means 65.6 million people are experiencing some mental illness. Because mental illness does not discriminate on age, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, or any other defining characteristic, that means that you can be affected by mental illness. That is okay. In the words of Erika Davis-Crump, “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay” (watch her TED Talk). All you should do is keep in mind that you could be experiencing a mental health crisis and practice mindfulness to ensure that you catch it early on.
While we all wish that this pandemic had never occurred, it is vital to see the positive changes being put in place to protect our community’s health and to take advantage of them. If you struggle with a mental illness, have compassion for yourself, believe that you can get through it, and understand that you sometimes need to make a change before everything gets better. Please remember to stay safe, have the crucial talks about mental health, and, even if you are in doubt, ask for help.