By Madeline Roty
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on physical health, but it is also taking a less obvious toll on our mental health. Based on my background in nursing, I know that physical and mental health are interdependent, and it is difficult to promote one without the other. For example, mental health disorders have been linked with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. While the negative impact of COVID-19 on mental health has been acknowledged in the media and scholarly literature, the pandemic represents an opportunity to normalize conversations about mental health which has been stigmatized for far too long. But as people have rushed to buy cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment to protect their physical health and the health of others, I have also witnessed friends and family neglect their own mental well-being. Masks will not protect your mental health. In fact, masking your feelings will harm your mental health.
I have been fortunate; my family and friends have been healthy and safe. Like many people, I have had classes moved online, plans cancelled, and a job restructured. I thought that if people are experiencing far worse suffering than mine, why should my problems matter? Then I got a phone call from a friend. She said she had had a really hard month, but she didn’t tell me earlier because it didn’t seem like a big deal with everything else going on in the world. Then another friend called, overwhelmed by the little stresses that had accumulated over time because she thought they weren’t important in the grand scheme of things. That’s when it struck me. Many people I know were not taking the time to acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on their mental health. Instead they were dismissing their personal feelings because other people were suffering more or because it seemed selfish.
While much attention has been focused on the underlying medical conditions that make people more susceptible to the coronavirus, I am also worried about people with pre-existing mental health conditions. The consequences of the pandemic can exacerbate symptoms and prevent or delay access to treatments. Grief, depression, and anxiety caused by major triggers such as prolonged social isolation, the loss of loved ones, or financial insecurities are growing problems. I am also worried that people are not taking the time to protect their mental health in the absence of what are perceived to be those major triggers for mental health problems. COVID-19 has an incubation period, and so can mental health problems: if people don’t take the time to discuss their concerns with friends and family, or seek treatment, inadequate mental well-being could escalate into a mental health disorder.
Just as people have gotten used to wearing a mask and washing their hands to protect their physical health and those around them, it is important for people to take simple but important steps to take care of their mental well-being. Taking care of your mental health isn’t just important for your own well-being, but it also ensures that you can be there to support others who are struggling. If you are feeling overwhelmed or uncertain or hopeless, no matter how small or trivial you think your problems are, I want you to know that what you are feeling is valid and that you are not alone. I am not suggesting that everyone needs to seek mental health care from a professional. However, everyone should take the time to reflect, acknowledge stressors, and identify ways to take care of their mental health. I hope this pandemic will facilitate increased discussions among the public, politicians, and healthcare providers about the importance of mental health, how to increase access to mental health services, and draw focus to alternative fields like music therapy.
If you feel you would benefit from help, resources are provided below: