One of the things that I have found so interesting this year, particularly about a month into the Great Pandemic of 2020, is people’s sudden interest in global mental health. As a social worker whose primary focus is global mental health, I was instantly intrigued. The world seemed almost preoccupied with it. “Our kids need to return to school…for their mental health!” Or, “I’m ready for things to get back to normal…for my mental health.” The best one I’ve heard this year was, “If I can’t get my manicure/pedicure in the next few weeks, ya’ll should be concerned…for my mental health.” And, look, I get it, I truly do! We are all looking for some normalcy in our lives and want to regain the natural rhythm that we had before. I am just wondering: how concerned are we about our mental health, truly?
How Okay Are You…Really?
It feels like a loaded question, doesn’t it? Seriously, how are we? This year has been full of twists and turns; we’ve been bobbing and weaving, trying to find strong footing on shifting sand. We were forced to homeschool our kids at the most difficult part of a school year. The pandemic has forced us to make some extremely hard decisions about whether we would follow governmental protocol, spend in-person time with our friends and family, and send our kids back to school.
Most of us are fervently trying to understand this novel virus, whether by taking the scientific path, following the feedback of scientific community or by embracing that of the conspiracy theorist, digging deep into the thousands of videos that have politicalized COVID in some way. Everyone has become a research statistician; people from every walk of life are pontificating about the available statistics from their perspective, whether they are correct or not. Check social media, if you don’t believe me!
However, one of the most significant things I noticed in my life circles occurred about a month into the shut-down. Once the CDC reported that a particular demographic seemed significantly more at-risk with the virus than the rest of the population, the general public’s concerns seemed to noticeably decrease. I begin to hear more people minimizing its impact on society as they didn’t “meet the criteria.” I watched more people going out into the community in an effort to “live normally,” not sure if they wanted to follow safe-distancing guidelines or not. It was also when I started hearing conversations outside the social work/counseling circles about the impact of pandemic-related experiences, requirements and obligations on one’s mental health.
The irony of it all is that many conversations about mental health were related to why we needed to “get back to normal as soon as possible.” Very few of those statements were coupled with, “I called my therapist for an appointment” or “I think that I need to reconnect with myself and deal with some things.” It began to sound like a deflection statement used to avoid dealing with our reality and go back to the busyness.
Do I believe that our mental health has been impacted by this pandemic? I absolutely do. However, is it possible that we were struggling with our mental health prior to COVID? It absolutely is. We were simply too busy to see it. Perhaps our relationships were straining under the weight of conflict, pain and things left unsaid but our life plates were intentionally filled with things to do, so we didn’t deal with it. The pandemic was just the icing on a crapcake and we were forced to stop and survey the damage.
Now, it is important to know that we all have areas in our lives that need assessment, including our mental health. I was just excited to hear people discussing how the pandemic was affecting them. However, I am beginning to wonder about the true motive of that perspective in certain areas of my life circles. Are we REALLY okay or are we preoccupied with PRESENTING as if we are okay? Is that why we are passive-aggressive in our approach to guidelines such as mask-wearing and social-distancing? If we are really okay, why are we having a hard time to do our part to ensure that those around us are okay? Why are we whining and complaining about simple things such as wearing a mask in public to protect others from getting COVID? Where is our sense of humanity to do our part to prevent our community from returning to Phase 1? When we prioritize our personal preferences over the greater good, where does our mental health fall on the spectrum of importance?
I hope that we can truly consider assessing our current state and dealing with our thoughts, feelings and behaviors related to COVID that may have a long-term impact on our lives…for our mental health.