A Courageous Conversation discussion of the effects of COVID-19 Pandemic on our mental health
March 11th marks two years since the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic (CDC, 2022). This month, we are looking back, taking stock of the mental health effects of the pandemic, and considering how can we improve our wellbeing as we continue to move forward.
Many people have suffered and faced COVID-related mental health challenges. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic (Panchal, Kamal, Cox, & Garfield, 2021). This is understandable as news about the spread of the virus brings with it a feeling of uncertainty, a lot of fear, a sense of isolation, and unimaginable loneliness.
The Mental health effects of COVID-19 became evident from the very beginning of the pandemic. We learn about this through reports of increased stress, suicidal thoughts, and symptoms of depression and anxiety (Panchal et al., 2021). Depression and anxiety symptoms include difficulty sleeping, sadness, worry, and increased alcohol consumption. An important point of note is that these symptoms have been observed in individuals with no mental health conditions as well as those with prior mental health conditions. In the latter group, the symptoms tend to be of increased intensity, and their conditions appear to be worse.
Although people in the general population have experienced worsening mental health, there are some groups of people who are more likely and more susceptible to experiencing mental health difficulties. They include essential workers (Fig. 1), people who have lost their job or those experiencing financial problems (Fig. 2), and young adults (Fig. 3).
Ethnic minorities are another major group of people more susceptible to experiencing pandemic-related mental health issues. These include African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans. These disparity stem from the fact that African Americans, for example, may lack necessary healthcare to help identify mental health symptoms early. They may also have less resources to help them address mental health concerns that may arise.
How can we deal with this and improve our mental health moving forward?
Although coronavirus restrictions have widely eased, the initial onset of the restrictions have had many effects on us collectively. Moving forward, we now can get into our “new normal,” by creating better routines and more meaningful connections with others. The CDC (2021) suggests that we learn to cope with stress in a healthy way to help us all become more resilient. Here are a few suggestions to help keep our mental health in check:
1. Create a routine:
Creating a routine and staying organized is very important. It gives your life much needed structure that can be beneficial, especially in times of uncertainty. It also keeps you organized, leading to less stress and clutter. Having a routine gives you the ability to do what’s important and affords you time for what you love.
2. Take care of yourself by prioritizing your physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing:
Take care of your body by exercising daily and eating well balanced and nutritious food. Keep the junk food to a minimum as they are linked to depression and a host of other health problems.
Seek help when you need it. Talk to a counselor, a therapist, a trusted person, a religious/spiritual leader, a family member, or a friend.
Spend time doing what you love and give yourself permission to relax.
3. Connect with others:
As restrictions have eased, many of us can go out or meet friends. Take advantage of this and make it a point to meet or go out with friends and family regularly. It will help you feel connected and have something to look forward to.
If you are unable to physically meet, stay in touch using virtual means such as video calls.
4. Focus on the positive:
This can refer to your general outlook. Try to focus on positive things and not give too much attention to the negative.
Practice gratitude! Get a journal and list the things you are grateful for every morning. This has been proven to help improve mental health and wellbeing.
Do charity work. Get involved with a charity such as The Aafiyah Project or a local organization whose mission resonates with you. Helping other will help you feel better as well as allow you to recognize the blessings that you have.
Avoid watching too much news. While it’s good to know what’s happening in the world, spending too much time with the news can shift your outlook on life, exposing you to more negative aspects of life.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021, July 22). Coping with stress. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/cope-with-stress/index.html? CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fdaily-life-coping%2Fmanaging-stress-anxiety.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, January 5). CDC Museum Covid-19 Timeline. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/museum/timeline/covid19.html
Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C., & Garfield, R. (2021, July 20). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and substance use. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Retrieved March 15, 2022, from https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
Written by Zaynab Alao (Student Intern, 2022)
Courageous Conversation series is The Aafiyah Project's discussion forum for sharing insights on mental health and wellness through discussion series, webinars, blog posts, social media posts etc.