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Mental Health Awareness Month Finds Americans Severely Impacted by the Pandemic
Every year in May, we celebrate the Mental Health Awareness Month to break the stigma and raise awareness on the importance of seeking treatment for conditions like anxiety and depression. This month, we’re encouraged to spread the word on mental health disorders, support the ones we know to be affected by them, and look after our own mental health. In the US, we’ve been doing this since 1949, but this year’s Mental health Awareness Month finds us in a particularly tricky spot.
With the COVID-19 crisis still sweeping across the US and affecting communities, its ramifications have inevitably extended to mental health and caused a surge in psychological distress. Preliminary data from researchers at San Diego State University and Florida State University shows that, in April, one in four Americans met the criteria for a mental illness diagnosis, which is a whopping 700% increase from the same period two years ago.
Although mental health distress has been reported in all blankets of the population, it seems that parents staying at home with their children are among the most affected, their distress rising from 3% to 37%. Researchers say that they expected to see a worsening in mental health, but, even so, the numbers are surprising and paint a bleak picture for Americans’ wellbeing.
The Coronavirus pandemic is not just a health crisis, but also an economic and social one, so it’s bound to affect all areas of our lives. Apart from the shock and uncertainty that one of our loved ones or we could get sick, there are the side effects of isolation and the stress of losing our jobs. Besides, the general stress and anxiety induced by the current state of events had led to an increase in alcohol, tobacco, and drug consumption, and led to worsening symptoms for those who were already experiencing mental health issues before the pandemic.
For the past few months, people have been dealing with social isolation, set against a dire background. According to the CDC, stress during this infectious disease outbreak includes symptoms like worry for our own health and that of those around us, irregular sleeping and eating patterns, difficulty focusing, as well as the worsening of existing chronic and mental health conditions.
Younger adults and seniors are affected in different ways
From a physical health perspective, the Coronavirus is likely to affect people over 65, who have weakened immune systems and preexisting health conditions. At the same time, older adults who live alone or in nursing homes are more likely to experience loneliness, which should affect their mental health. However, so far, research points to the contrary: only 9% of Americans over 60 have been reported to suffer from serious mental distress, compared to 38% of Americans aged 18-29, and 37% of Americans aged 30-44 and 45-59.
That could be partly because seniors are less likely to experience the economic effects of the pandemic (but they’re just as likely to be affected by the emotional challenges of the lockdown). Gen Z and Millennials come from a different economic background: they’re less likely to own property, they’re struggling to keep up with rent/mortgage payments, and may not always have stable jobs. The causes vary depending on social and economic backgrounds. For example, young restaurant, retail, and hospitality workers, who already had a vulnerable financial situation, lost their jobs, and the ones in essential industries had their lives changed dramatically. For them, the new normal means facing an increased risk of transmission at work, working longer hours, and worrying that they might infect their families too.
Parents who now work from home with underage children are torn between doing their jobs, looking after their kids, and homeschooling. Needless to say, healthcare workers are facing unprecedented stress levels, and the measures taken by individual institutions aren’t always enough to counter the toll of the pandemic. Overall, the nation is under serious stress, which is why wellness solutions like the ones from OrganicCBDnugs have gained more popularity. As calls to mental health hotlines are surging, mental health advocates point out that policymakers should allocate more resources to this sector.
How to look after your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic
According to Rhiana Holmes, a trauma therapist specializing in disaster psychology, “depression and anxiety thrive on social isolation and disruption of routine,” so, now more than ever, we have to pay attention to our mental health, be kinder to ourselves, and stay emotionally connected to our loved ones, even amidst social distancing.
Here are some tips specialists recommend:
• Practice meditation every day. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress, induce relaxation, and control the anxiety that many of us are feeling at this time of crisis.
• Limit your daily TV and social media exposure. While it’s important to check the official guidelines from the CDC and World Health Organization, tuning into the news multiple times a day and constantly refreshing your social media feed can exacerbate anxious thoughts. Checking your phone compulsively for updates may seem like a small measure of control, but psychologists warn that this can be harmful in the long run.
• Try to stay physically active as much as possible. Even if you can’t go out, indoor fitness exercises can lift your spirits and help control anxiety.
• Practice your hobbies or take up new ones. Keeping up with your favorite TV shows, reading, cooking, blogging, or painting can relax you and boost your self-esteem.
• Take time for self-care. With more time to spend at home, indulge in long baths, skincare, and body care.
• Stay in touch with your loved ones. Even if you’re social distancing, you don’t have to be emotionally distant. Call your elderly relatives regularly and schedule video calls with your friends.
• Make video appointments with your mental healthcare provider whenever possible, and continue the treatment if you have one.
If you or someone you know is experiencing extreme emotional distress, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 for phone calls and online chats.