Just how deep is the impact of COVID-19 on mental health? It’s too early on the journey back to “normalcy” for anyone to say with certainty. While the pandemic impacted people in different ways, the one thing we can say for certain is that nobody made it through this experience unscathed. That may come as a surprise to you if you’ve convinced yourself that you’re “doing fine.”
For some people, the pandemic’s impact on mental health was immediate, powerful and obvious. For others, the impact seeped in through the forms of mood and behavioral changes. In some cases, people who are struggling with mental health may feel like they don’t “deserve” to express their struggles because they didn’t experience any personal losses or upheavals as a result of the pandemic. In all cases, we need to talk about the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. For many people, the road to wellness from this point forward includes a combination of reaching out to others, practicing self-care and utilizing healthcare resources for mental health.
What We Know About COVID-19 and Mental Health Today
One of the best indicators of where we are as a society with mental health collectively comes from a British survey done at the end of 2020 showing that more than 42 percent of people are experiencing anxiety. Data released by the Centers for Disease Control shows similar warning signs about mental health in the United States. According to the CDC, symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably as a result of the pandemic. Here’s a snapshot of mental health in the midst of COVID-19 from the CDC:
- More than 40 percent of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition.
- More than 30 percent specifically cited symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder.
- More than 26 percent reported symptoms of trauma stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the events of the pandemic.
- More than 13 percent reported using substances to cope with stress and emotions related to COVID-19.
- More than 10 percent reported seriously considering suicide within the past 30 days.
While COVID-19 was a universal, unifying event that impacted people across all ages and walks of life, different demographics experienced specific challenges amidst lockdowns. In particular, students were at increased risk for stress and anxiety related to lockdowns and changes in social structure. In a study designed to measure the effects of COVID-19 on the mental health of college students, researchers polled 195 students at a large public university. Here’s a look at the findings that prompted researchers to conclude that there is an “urgent need” to develop interventions and preventive strategies to address the mental health of college students:
- 71 percent indicated increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
- 91 percent reported negative impacts on their lives.
- 89 percent reported difficulty in concentrating.
- 86 percent reported disruptions to sleeping patterns.
- 86 percent reported decreased social interactions.
- 82 percent reported increased concerns on academic performance.
There’s also evidence that the crisis we’re seeing in mental health isn’t solely related to the emotional and psychological impacts of lockdowns, isolation and health fears. According to researchers responsible for one study, just over 30 percent of COVID-19 survivors in the United States were diagnosed with a neurological or mental health condition within six months of their COVID-19 diagnoses. While the connection is still being investigated, it’s obvious that the virus’s impact on mental health will linger for decades.
Embarking on a Journey for Better Mental Health a Year After COVID-19 Changed Everything
There are three big takeaways for anyone who is ready to tackle COVID-19’s lingering impact on mental health. The first is that you didn’t necessarily have to have a year of personal tragedy to be suffering from depression or anxiety stemming from COVID-19. While the pandemic impacted people in a multitude of ways, there is no wrong way to feel in the aftermath of a very hard year. The second is that you shouldn’t assume that you should be able to just “snap back” to your pre-COVID mindset just because things are slowly returning back to normal. The impact of such a traumatic and trying year won’t necessarily fade just because things “look” normal again. What’s more, people should not assume that they are doing something wrong if they can’t simply feel happy again. The third big takeaway is that not every member of a family is going to have the same experience with mental health during the pandemic. As a result, the same approach to wellness may not work across a family. Take a look at some specific ways to put the focus on mental health after COVID-19:
- Talk to Someone: If you’re feeling like you’ve been left “different” from COVID-19, it’s important to talk with a professional. This can range from anything from traditional counseling to specialized health coaching.
- Consider the Medical Aspect: While changes in mood may be caused by the stress of the pandemic, there’s also a possibility that what you’re experiencing is the result of an underlying medical issue. Changes in your habits during lockdowns could have caused changes to your health. Utilize your healthcare options to get blood work done to see where your levels for key indicators stand.
- Remember to Only Control What You Can: One of the biggest reasons why COVID-19 has been so detrimental to mental health is the loss of control so many of us experienced. Feeling stressed over such a large problem that no single person can control caused many people to lose hours of their lives to fear and panic. It can be healthy to divert that energy to things in your own life that you can control. For many people, this means looking after their health and wellness. Things like eating properly, working out based on your personal fitness goals and taking supplements to feel your best can all provide healthy outlets for the desire to stay in control.
Ultimately, the only choice anyone has as the world copes with COVID-19 is to try their best to turn a negative situation into a positive one. For families, this means having important discussions about how the pandemic has impacted each member individually. The next step is setting up a plan to help each person to cope in healthy ways based on their needs and experiences. For individuals, it’s about reaching out to get the help needed in whichever form allows them to move forward.
Are You Ready to Prioritize Your Mental Health and Wellness?
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