Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the US was already facing a mental health crisis. But the pandemic turned that gradually worsening crisis onto another major public health problem for the country.Newly gathered data highlights how the mental health of US residents has been impacted. According to a survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association at the beginning of the pandemic approximately half of US residents, or 48 percent, were anxious about the thought of contracting COVID-19. The national survey released in March also suggested that 4 in 10 US residents were anxious about becoming ill or dying from coronavirus while 62 percent reported being anxious about having a family member and loved one getting coronavirus. The physicians behind the research emphasized that uncertainty is the keyword when it comes to the decline of our mental health, collectively speaking.
Some people are worried about their finances or job security. Some are worried about their kids going back to school or simply about having to go outside to buy necessary items. Others are concerned about substance use. Many are afraid of their own health and the physical safety of their families. Some are grieving the loss of loved ones who passed from the virus and their sorrow is often deepened by not being able to attend memorial services. This current pandemic is perhaps more overwhelming than the opioid epidemic. Not just due to the number of people impacted but because of the grim increases in different data, such as in the number of calls received by suicide hotlines, for instance. Furthermore, the professionals who are assisting others to navigate the pandemic are themselves facing numerous turbulences. Consequently, there are several steps we need to take as a country to improve the current situation and future outlook of mental health. Additional public investments — that target mental health care workers and at-risk populations that can’t access behavioral treatment — certainly seem to be the first step. Yet, until we change the stigma associated with mental health, the improvements may be doomed. The stigma linked to mental health disorders keeps people from seeking the treatment they need and that can be fatal. Thinking and addressing mental health conditions in the same exact way as physical conditions is an exercise that may benefit us all. It may help normalize other people’s struggles and start to create an environment that makes not only others feel supported but ourselves as well.