May is mental health awareness month. Throughout the month, countless organizations come together to raise awareness and advocacy for mental health. They work to fight stigma, offer resources and support, and provide education about treatment and recovery.
Amid increased isolation due to COVID-1919, awareness about mental health conditions is more important than ever.
Here is what you need to know.
COVID-19 and Mental Health
Since being declared a pandemic, COVID-19 has taken the entire world by the storm. Social distancing, quarantine, and stay-at-home have become household terms. People are facing financial distress, working from home, juggling children out of school, and no longer have access to their favorite social hangouts. To add to the concern, as of April, COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in the United States.
Many people are reporting heightened levels of anxiety and depression related to getting sick. 3 in 5 Americans report feeling fear about contracting the virus. Older people and people with preexisting health conditions have a higher risk of medical complications. As a result, these populations may face even more distress over their well-being.
In April, the United States surged to a staggering 14.7 percent joblessness rate. This number is on par with statistics seen during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Furthermore, this figure doesn't account for the millions of people who are temporarily unemployed or expected to return back to work.
Some economists estimate that unemployment could rise to nearly 25 percent. Not only could this devastate the economy, but money concerns tend to correlate with increased depression, anxiety, substance use, and marital problems.
Anxiety and Depression
Many people report feeling increased rates of mental health symptoms including:
- irritability and agitation
- problems with focus and concentration
- loneliness and isolation (likely due to social distancing effects)
- disturbed sleep
- problems with appetite
- increased substance use or other escape behaviors (overeating, gambling, compulsive online shopping)
- suicidal thoughts or behavior
People with histories of mental health conditions may be at a higher risk of developing such symptoms during COVID-19. However, people without past histories are also at risk.
Substance Use Problems
From the social media jokes about "quarantinis" to people sharing their stories about day drinking or bar-crawling from room to room, alcohol use appears to be rampant right now.
Research has shown that alcohol sales increased by a whopping 55 percent this past March. While some people may be stockpiling their favorite drinks, others are likely self-medicating with alcohol.
Therapists have already started commenting on the potential "divorce boom" that could occur after COVID-19. That's because couples and families are currently forced to spend time together. They may be doubling or tripling this time.
If dysfunction already existed in the relationship, shutdown orders may exacerbate these problems. Couples may find themselves even more irritated, resentful, or downright spiteful towards their spouses.
Why Social Awareness Matters
Mental health problems are often an invisible epidemic. Many stigmas and misconceptions reinforce pervasive shame about the struggle. However, mental health isn't a matter of choice or willpower. That's why ongoing advocacy remains so important. The more people are aware of these potential issues, the more readily we can offer resources, support, and guidance.