COVID-19 and Mental Illness
The current pandemic has made us hyperaware of the added risk of exposure to COVID-19, especially for those of us with underlying illnesses. Most of us tend to be compassionate and understanding, often going out of our way to make these individuals feel safe.
However, the same sense of compassion and understanding is not readily expressed toward those with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or with more severe mental health issues such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. I believe we need to ask ourselves what it would take to expand our concern and compassion during this pandemic for those with underlying mental health conditions.
Pre-pandemic, we had systems in place that allowed people with mental health issues to receive the help and support they needed. These support systems help people manage and function in society. Because of cutbacks and an inability to access much-needed services many of these support systems are lacking, placing people at a higher risk for distress.
Most of us are used to interacting with others on a daily basis and are now going for days and weeks without seeing another human being “in the flesh.” This is incredibly challenging. But for some of us this consistent lack of in-person interaction, along with other variables such as loneliness and loss and fear, it is just too much. Consequently, during the months of COVID-19 there has been a significant rise in cases of anxiety and depression, as well as an increase in suicide and substance abuse.
Sadly, mental health issues have always been stigmatized. During these times, almost everyone has experienced times where we feel more anxious, more lost, more afraid, more uncertain, more depressed. What I have a hard time understanding is now that most of us have stood in the shoes of others, why are we unable to show increased compassion for those who live with these feelings most of their lives? We can learn and expand the umbrella of concern and focus to include not only those with physical conditions, but mental health conditions during the pandemic.
What do each of us need to be more aware and more present for those who are having a really tough time? We can try exhibiting a desire to understand someone else’s experience and while at it, show interest, patience, and compassion. This pandemic offers opportunities to learn, to experience the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. When someone is suffering, offer comfort. We do not have to solve anything; we just need them to feel seen and heard.
We can begin by becoming aware of our attitudes and actions, and focus on expressing concern for others. When we notice changes in behavior, mood, attitude, we can acknowledge the change without judgement and perhaps seek to understand what is going on. We can reach out to people and reassure them that they are not alone, especially during tough times of isolation and fear. Regular ZOOM or virtual calls, text messages, and phone calls on a regular basis can provide a touchstone for many.