Could COVID-19 Be the Thing That Actually Normalizes Mental Healthcare?

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As the world lives through a pandemic, the experience of anxiety, depression, loneliness, fear, and isolation have become common. To some extent, most individuals living through this global catastrophe have experienced an ongoing sense of fear, despair, and concern. Even those without pre-existing mental health conditions may have begun to experience symptoms like anxiety and sadness as a result of the current pandemic and the subsequent stressors.

How Mental Health is Being Normalized

We normalize mental health care through conversation, shared experiences, and empathy. As a world, we are experiencing collective pain and trauma. Once that pain and trauma recedes, we’ll be faced with other emotions as we look to rebuild. It’s possible that we’ll experience ongoing anxiety, depression, or hopelessness — our futures may look far different than we envisioned them. However, with these emotions come change and part of that change may involve more empathy, tolerance, and an understanding of the importance of mental health treatment.

As we begin to consider the potential ways that the pandemic can impact our futures, it’s important to also explore some of the ways that it could serve to normalize mental health.

We’re talking about mental health

Perhaps one of the biggest changes you’re noticing is that mental health has gone from being a stigmatized, taboo, and often overlooked topic, to an issue we’re now actively discussing. We’re talking about what it feels like to be scared, worried, anxious, or depressed. We’re sharing our feelings of isolation and loneliness, and discussing our need for interconnectedness. We’re also seeing celebrities, people in leadership positions, and others in positions of power talk about their own experiences with mental health.

These are all powerful tools in the quest to help normalize mental health and mental health treatment. More and more frequently, folks are taking to social media and speaking with news outlets to share their experience struggling with their mental health and mental health treatment. These personal experiences serve to normalize mental health treatment and make it easier to discuss in public and private spaces — something that was rare even ten years ago.

We’re actively seeking treatment and there’s more access to treatment than ever

The pandemic — and its requisite distancing and isolation — brought with it an increased need for mental health treatment. Luckily, more than ever, people are reaching out and asking for help. Overall, there’s been an increased emphasis on encouraging individuals to seek treatment for the issues they’re struggling with. Many employers are encouraging their employees to seek treatment through employee assistance benefits and mental health organizations are donating time and resources to help make treatment available to those who need it.

We’re also seeing an increased focus on the use of teletherapy as a safe option for mental health treatment, one that doesn’t risk exposure to either the provider or the client. This increased focus has meant that more individuals are accessing individualized, personalized, and effective treatment options right in the comfort of their home — or wherever they can connect to the internet.

We’re not alone in what we’re feeling

The emotions related to mental health can be complex, confusing, and isolating. Those experiencing depression, trauma, anxiety, or any other mental health symptoms may feel isolated and alone. However, with the increased attention to mental health symptoms — and with many of us talking openly about their own mental health, sometimes for the first time — it may help to decrease the isolation associated with the increasingly common conditions experienced during the coronavirus pandemic.

As we manage the collective trauma of the pandemic, many of us are newly aware of what it means to have anxiety. We can now empathize with what it means to feel worried, afraid, or uncertain about the future. That we have a shared experience, but are also personally experiencing these complex emotions, means that we have an opportunity to normalize mental health treatment. Although the pandemic represents a significant public health crisis, it might also provide an opportunity for mental health treatment to be at the forefront of public conversation for years to come. This crisis may be what finally formalizes mental health care.

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