It’s no secret that the world seems pretty bleak right now.
Despite the strides we’ve made nationally in vaccination distribution, COVID-19 is still ravaging the world. The rate of new cases globally is more around 36 times higher than it was back in March 2020, when pandemic-panic was far higher. Remember when The New York Times published that powerful front page back in May 2020 listing the names of 100,000 people who had been lost to COVID-19?
We’ve since passed that death count, and in fact it has increased by nearly 700%. Having lost that many people, it’s safe to assume that many more are still dealing with grief from those losses, including the over 140,000 children who have lost a parent or grandparent. Without a mask mandate, eviction moratorium, stimulus payments, or health care coverage for all, many (including myself) are struggling to stay optimistic about the future of our fight against COVID-19. Put simply: morale is low.
Despite this very legitimate grief, stress, and worry, the push to return to normalcy feels pervasive on every level. Though we’re very much still in a pandemic, it often seems as though society has moved on, and we must get on board or be left behind. Sometimes one might feel that the only way to keep going is to ignore reality and push one’s self to pretend everything is A-OK.
Though I understand this urge, I also don’t believe ignoring reality is a sustainable solution on any level. When everything you see around you contradicts the attitude you are expected to have every day, the effect can be mentally devastating. Mental health professionals refer to this contradiction as “toxic positivity,” which is defined as an “excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.” When employed, toxic positivity serves to invalidate and suppress genuine feelings, thus increasing the shame and isolation that many already feel.
I know I am not alone with this struggle. As of June 2020, around 40% of US adults reported “elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.” 13% turned to substance use, and 11% reported seriously considering suicide. The groups most at risk for poor mental health included younger adults, essential workers, and racial/ethnic minorities—groups that also comprise CommunityHealth’s patient base.
Our providers are feeling it, too. Frontline public health workers report trauma as a result of the grueling hours and frequency of sickness and death—indeed, as of April 2021, 53% of public health workers in the United States report symptoms of at least one serious mental health condition.
We cannot ignore that our collective mental health has suffered over the last two years. And while it may be easier to push through and try to force ourselves back to normal, denial is simply not going to fix the damage that COVID-19 has wrought.
Of course, despair is just as dangerous as denial, and I firmly believe that we cannot have change without having hope. We can neither afford to give up or to be blindly optimistic when public health and safety are at stake.
To solve a problem this large, we need both hope and realism.
Acknowledging the tangible problems that we face—the continued spread of COVID-19, the crowding of hospitals, the shortage of ventilators, the economic barriers that keep many from receiving treatment—is the only way that we can find the solutions to those problems. Similarly, acknowledging that things are not okay within ourselves is the first step towards healing, and doing so in community with others is even more effective. Reality is scary, but it becomes less so when we take it on together, with empathy for each other and kindness toward ourselves.
When we share the burden, we lighten the burden.
CommunityHealth is proud to offer mental health services to our patients, and therapy can be an incredible help to those who are struggling. Ultimately, though, professional counseling and prescription medication are just a couple of tools we have in our toolkit when it comes to maintaining mental health—Just like the need to brush and floss in between dental appointments, we need to come at mental health from a variety of strategies. Journaling, exercise, meditation, healthy eating, a regular sleep schedule, a solid community of trusted friends; these are just a few things that can help you manage your mental health.
Have you given yourself space to process your feelings lately?
We recognize, however, that even advice like this can put the onus of “feeling good” on the individual. Let’s acknowledge the truth: it’s really hard to be happy when the world is really depressing!
So it’s okay to not feel okay.
Whatever you’re struggling with, it’s not your fault.
We can’t blame people for their own depression any more than we can blame people for having cancer. What’s important is knowing that you’re not alone, and that you are enough, no matter where you are in your mental health journey.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: 1-888-628-9454
Lifeline Options For Deaf + Hard of Hearing: For TTY Users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255