By the time the pandemic passes, Covid-19 will have changed many different aspects of our lives, from the way we work to the way we live. Our team at StoneRidge Centers believes that Covid-19 will also change the way we talk about our mental health, for the better. And we want to be part of this positive change.
That’s why we’ll be sharing research, articles, and interviews that talk about improving and sustaining our mental health throughout the Covid-19 pandemic on our blog and social media.
We are already seeing a change in the way Americans are discussing their mental health challenges during this pandemic. For many years, mental health challenges have been off-limits for many Americans to discuss out of concern that they will be stigmatized or seen as untrustworthy, unreliable, or unstable. Yet with so many of us struggling with feelings of anxiety and stress during this time, more Americans are becoming willing to open up and share how they are really feeling.
While we don’t know if these open conversations will last after the pandemic ends, we’re encouraged by the openness with which we are all engaging with mental health issues at the moment.
Here are three key ways that Covid-19 is changing the way we talk about mental health in our country:
1. Americans are more open about discussing anxiety and depression.
There is no question that Covid-19 is impacting our mental health, often for the worse. A survey from the American Psychiatric Association found that:
- 62% of Americans expressed anxiety about the health of their loved ones during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- 36% reported that Covid-19 was placing a “serious impact on their mental health”
- 8% said they were drinking or taking drugs more frequently during the pandemic.
- 24% said it was more difficult for them to concentrate due to uncertainty over the virus.
These results indicate the significant emotional and mental toll that Covid-19 is taking on Americans across the country, regardless of their health, income, or political leanings. The virus has become a catalyst for increased rates of anxiety, depression, and stress among nearly all Americans, whether they directly know someone impacted by the virus or not.
At the same time, Americans are expressing a greater willingness to talk about and seek help with their mental health challenges than they had prior to the pandemic. Over the course of the pandemic, survey firm YouGov and website Healthline have asked Americans through a series of surveys about how they are thinking about their mental health. Among the results they have found are:
- More people are seeking out resources for coping with long-term isolation
- More people are searching for help managing trauma and grief
- More people are looking for ways to deal with stress and anxiety
- 49% of Americans are showing “some signs of depression”
Their April survey also found an increase in the number of Americans who were open to discussing their anxiety. 55% of men admitted they felt anxious about Covid-19, a 15% increase since when they first started surveying.
While these survey results highlight the toll of Covid-19 on so many different aspects of our lives, they also show the proactive steps that many Americans are taking to find help. This is particularly true among populations that have often shied away from mental health help in the past, including adult men.
One of the biggest challenges of connecting people with mental health resources is the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health. Individuals are worried about being labeled as mentally unstable or unsafe or being seen as weak or ill if they receive counseling or other forms of mental health support. Prior to Covid-19, 43% of Americans had received some form of mental health counseling, but 30% did so because a doctor recommended mental health care, not of their own initiative.
For better or worse, the Covid-19 pandemic is changing this perception and making it easier for individuals to find the help they need. It’s also made conversations about mental health more socially acceptable, as these survey results indicate.
We still have a long way to go in our society to make mental health care accessible and open for all, as well as making seeking mental health support as easy and “normal” as seeking help for a medical condition.
Until then, however, the statistics showing that we are slowly willing to engage in more productive conversations around our mental health are encouraging, even if much more needs to be done. We hope we can carry over this openness to mental health care long after the pandemic fades from the headlines.
2. Americans are sharing resources to help each other.
If you search mental health Covid-19 on Google, you’ll see a pop-up at the top of your results. It reads “Be Kind to Your Mind” and it includes a list of 5 key steps to better manage stress during this uncertain time. The box is the result of a partnership between Google and the Centers for Disease Control, a special public service announcement designed to reach the millions of people who are searching for Covid-19-related information every day.
This is just one example of the hundreds of different resources available to people online, which also include:
- Additional resources for managing stress during Covid-19 from the Centers for Disease Control
- Guidelines for anxiety and stress in multiple different languages (including English, Spanish, Chinese, and Tagalog) from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health
- A large directory of mental health resources from Mental Health America
- Advice, graphics, and videos on mental health during Covid-19 from the World Health Organization
- A comprehensive downloadable guide from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Strategies and resources from the Mayo Clinic
In addition to these resources from official organizations, more and more Americans are supporting each other via social media and other platforms. Hashtags like #justcheckingin have grown on social media, allowing users to indicate they are concerned about others’ well-being and mental health during this challenging time. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has put together a series of colorful graphics for online platforms like Instagram and Facebook, available for free.
Peer support during Covid-19 isn’t limited to images and messages on social media, either. Organizations across the web are working together to create online experiences designed to help people cope with Covid-19 stress. Among these experiences include:
- An online mindful breathing video from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- A smartphone app that helps individuals learn stress-relieving breathing techniques
- An online Covid-19 symptoms screening tool from Apple
- A smartphone app that provides helpful tips for managing Covid-19
More family members and loved ones are also using video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Apple’s FaceTime technology to connect across distances. The social isolation required during Covid-19 has also prompted individuals to find new ways to spend time together, from sites like Netflix Party to trivia and Bingo games hosted over video conferencing software.
While Covid-19 has clearly increased levels of stress and anxiety among most Americans, the pandemic has also motivated many of us to reach out to friends and family and make time to support each other. This is yet another positive outcome from a very challenging situation.
3. Americans are approaching mental health as a community, not in isolation.
Isolation is one of the biggest challenges facing anyone struggling with mental health, substance use, or related issues. Research shows that long-term isolation:
- can affect our health as negatively as harmful habits such as smoking and lack of exercise
- can increase our risk for heart-related health challenges and stroke
- can increase our risk for suicide and accidental death
- can increase feelings of stress and anxiety
- can greatly increase our risk of depression and cognitive decline
Yet in an unprecedented situation like the Covid-19 pandemic, social distancing and isolation are necessary to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safe. Luckily, social distancing doesn’t have to mean an increase in mental and physical health risks.
In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans have been united together even as we are voluntarily staying separate. Because we are all sharing this sense of isolation at the same time, we are better able to support each other through acts of kindness, check-ins with loved ones, and volunteerism within our community.
Among the ways that Americans are helping each other and supporting our mental health during this tough time include:
- Organizing and scheduling virtual family reunions and community gatherings
- Providing accommodations and support for vulnerable individuals, including the elderly and immunocompromised
- Sharing resources and tips on social media
- Gathering and participating in stress-relieving events like online dance parties, concerts, trivia nights, and discussions
- Checking in on neighbors and friends who may need extra help and support
- Organizing fundraisers and charity events to support important community organizations
- Encouraging others to share how they are feeling and to ask for help when needed
Research indicates that having more interpersonal relationships can actually improve health outcomes among the elderly, and that people who help others (particularly as caregivers) also see a boost in their own health outcomes. One study even found that, prior to Covid-19, individuals struggling with depression had better outcomes when they received treatment at home. Other studies indicate that even a phone call a few times per week can help the elderly stay healthier, and that pet ownership improves health outcomes for many people. All of these are examples of how increased social relationships, even from a distance can produce positive health results.
If you know someone in your life who may be feeling alone or isolated during this time, make a special effort to reach out and, if appropriate, connect them with mental health resources. If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness or isolation, whether they are Covid-19-related or not, don’t hesitate to seek out resources to help.
It will be some time until researchers are able to fully assess the long-term consequences and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our emotional and mental health. But short-term signs indicate that it’s critically important that we all remain available to support each other and our communities throughout the duration of the pandemic.
Luckily, Americans, on the whole, are responding positively and proactively to these needs. While mental health has often been a stigmatized topic that individuals have preferred not to discuss, the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have made talking about, seeking help for, and asking for advice on mental health more acceptable than ever before. We hope this trend persists after the pandemic ends and we enter a new era in which mental health is no longer a taboo subject.
That will require work and compassion on all our parts. Remember that seeking out mental health care is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a sign that you are committed to helping yourself make healthier choices for your life and the lives of those around you. Particularly during a stressful and anxious time, taking time to invest in your own mental health can help you remain a more confident and competent person. Even as Covid-19 recedes, we can all benefit from more openness and transparency around our struggles and the challenges facing others.
Remember, if you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges relating to Covid-19, you’re not alone. Among the resources available to you include:
- National Association of Mental Illness HelpLine at (800) 950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org. Available 10 am- 6 pm ET weekdays.
- National Association of Mental Illness Crisis Text Line for mental health emergencies: send “NAMI” to 741741 24 hours a day, 7 days per week
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at (800) 985-5990
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255)
- Project Return online support groups, available at http://prpsn.org/online-groups/
Our team is also available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week for a free and confidential conversation about your mental health needs.
If you’d like to read more about the ways that Covid-19 is changing the conversation around mental health, we recommend a recent article from TIME Magazine that asks, “Can Covid-19 finally destigmatize mental illness?”.
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