Why We Still Need To Talk About COVID-19 During Mental Health Awareness Month

By Tim schilling, Msw, LICDC, LISW-S (Executive Director, Lighthouse Behavioral health solutions)

These are extraordinary times! We have lived with the reality of COVID-19 for more than a year. As the month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month, it seems a good time to reflect on COVID-19 and the impact it has had on the mental health of our nation. And… on how we can continue to care for our mental health.

The COVID-19 pandemic or, more precisely, the morbidity and mortality of the disease, as well as the activities associated with mitigating the ‘spread’ (social distancing, wearing a mask, staying at home, economic shutdowns and a relentless inundation of information from traditional and social media) have been associated with significant increases in mental health challenges.

According to the CDC, for the 3-month period April-June 2020 reported increases in the symptoms of anxiety and depression jump off the page. When compared to the same time period in the previous non-COVID year, the prevalence of anxiety symptoms increased three- fold. (25.5% in 2020 vs. 8.1% in 2019). The increase in those reporting symptoms of depression was even more significant (24.3% in 2020 vs. 6.5% in 2019).

Nearly 25% of all adults reported symptoms of trauma-related stress disorders while those that seriously considered suicide in the 30 days prior to the report increased from 4.3% to 10.7%. Possibly even more shocking than 1 in 10 adults seriously considering suicide is the subgroup of 18-24 years old where 1 in 4 admitted to seriously considering suicide. (CDC weekly Aug. 14 2020)

Given these assaults on our mental health, we need to be proactive in building our resilience. We need to remember to care for ourselves physically, spiritually and mentally. As the weeks and months pass, try to incorporate some of these activities into your life:

  • Take a break from the onslaught of news and social media…disconnect for a while.
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation.
  • Develop a routine for breathing and body scanning.
  • Exercise.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Develop good sleep hygiene.
  • Limit alcohol, tobacco and other substance use.
  • Take time to unwind, engage in pleasurable activities.
  • Connect with others and allow others to connect with you (talk, share, support).
  • Engage with whatever faith-based or spiritual practice you identify.

And, of course, don’t forget that getting the help of a mental health professional can help when nothing else does. If you are feeling like harming yourself, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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