Why Mental Health Awareness is More Important Now Than Ever

If you didn’t know, the month of May is the United States’ Mental Health Awareness Month. I wouldn’t be surprised if this month, in particular, a lot of the conversation around mental health is informed by the context of COVID-19 and for many of us, the effects of social distancing. You can even see this reflected in the recent slew of SeattleU Hercampus articles. I hesitated for a long while about writing this article, because I’m almost too afraid of oversaturation, or talking too much about my feelings without any main point. But that’s the problem; this situation we’ve all been thrust into is almost all I can think about. I can’t write about anything else until I get at least some of my thoughts out. Even that is a reflection of a bigger phenomenon at play here: whether you are a healthcare worker, an essential worker, working from home, or otherwise affected, we are all trying to get sh*t done and maintain our sanity at the same time.

I feel like one of the biggest concerns about mental health right now is the threat of social isolation. I’ve written about this topic of loneliness before, and how we may underestimate just how detrimental it can be for the human psyche. Especially older people, who are at increased risk and are already at risk for social isolation, the negative effects of social distancing can possibly be as dangerous as the risk of the virus, depending on the care they are receiving during this time. At the same time, loneliness is affecting everyone right now. One of the biggest sources of support we receive during difficult times is social support. Unfortunately, social support is limited as we all have to stay six feet away from each other and stay home whenever possible. Sure, social media and video chatting are helpful, but it’s not a perfect replacement.

But then, on a more individualistic level, each of us is dealing with the loss of our old lives and trying to deal with this new reality. Everyone has their own issues that make adjusting even more difficult than the assumed “universal” experience. This, on top of our lack of social support, can lead to a really tough blow to our own mental health. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, I was having a tough year regarding my own mental health. Now, my previous in-person therapy sessions are over the phone and don’t feel as effective as a result.  Trying to make an appointment with my physician feels next to impossible. Add on top of that the guilt I feel for asking for support at a time when the whole world needs it, and you’ve got a recipe for chronic sadness and helplessness.

One of the important things to remember throughout all this is that, as cheesy as it sounds, you’re not alone in this. Organizations such as the CDC have put out warnings to increase Telehealth services, as rates of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and suicide are likely to increase. Although it sucks, you’re not somehow “failing” just because you’re having a hard time in the middle of a global pandemic. Even if social media influencers are telling you now is the time to go on a productivity bend, I promise you, you’re allowed to just sit and absorb all the craziness. Sometimes, just getting through the day is a challenge, and focusing on how to feel better is more important than getting down on yourself for everything you didn’t get to.

That being said, forcing yourself to achieve any bit of normalcy can positively affect your mental health. A common piece of advice you hear about destructive thoughts is that it’s important to try your best to do the opposite of what your mind is telling you to. If your brain is telling you to stay in bed and be miserable? Get up and change your clothes, or wash your face, or go get coffee or a snack. If your mind is telling you to isolate yourself, try and reach out to a friend. Because everyone is experiencing some degree of loneliness right now, I can pretty much guarantee you that people will appreciate your reaching out. By doing these things, you might still be miserable, but you’re one step closer to getting on with your day. Accomplishing something will feel better than feeling miserable and not taking care of yourself at all. And the whole day doesn’t have to be written off either. Even if it's 4 PM, you can get up and start your day. Remember, focus more on the attempt to take of yourself and your responsibilities, and less on the illusion of perfection that you may not have met. And, if your mind is telling you that it couldn’t get any worse…

… just remember that it can!

Kidding. But remember that while it’s scary, this isn’t the first time humanity has had to deal with an aggressive virus before, and there are people working every day to try and lessen the damage of COVID-19. Humanity is not giving up, so neither should you. And if you’re struggling with thoughts of suicide, self-harm or just need to reach out to someone, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (1-800-273-8255, or chat here), the Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth: (866-488-7386), or text Home to 741741 to talk to a Crisis Counselor. Thank you to all our Telehealth Mental Health doctors, counselors, and volunteers.