Over the past several months, individuals across the world have seen unprecedented levels of stress, fear, concern, and despair. Here in the United States, pandemic-related stress is only part of the story; additionally, another part includes the ongoing racial injustices experienced by individuals within the Black community. Not only do Black individuals and individuals of color demonstrate an overall higher risk for contracting COVID-19, they are also at a higher risk for violence, income inequality, and myriad other public health concerns.
Regardless of the particular stress that an individual has experienced, it is evident that mental health, and the way we approach the treatment of it, is likely forever changed.
The events of the past few months have highlighted deep structural inequalities across the country. As a result, many individuals are now experiencing increased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and symptoms of stress and trauma. There is still much uncertainty as to how these situations may impact mental health and, only with time, will we truly see the far-ranging impact of all that has played out thus far in the first half of 2020.
The following is not a comprehensive list, rather, it presents an overview of the ways in which mental health may be impacted as a result of the events of this year.
Difficulty Adjusting Even if There is a Slow Return to Normalcy
For many, it has been difficult to adjust to the events of this year. There is no manual for living through a pandemic and, with each phase of the pandemic, comes a new set of circumstances and concerns. For many, COVID-19 has also brought an ongoing sense of destabilization and difficulty adjusting to current life circumstances. The pandemic is not a singular stressful event, it is an ongoing and fluid situation — and one that changes from moment to moment.
Similarly, the experience of racial injustices are not a singular event — racial injustices are interwoven into the fabric of our society and our lived experience and they require prioritized attention personally as well as broad systematic changes.
As a result of the stressors noted above, individuals may find that they experience difficulty adjusting to their old routines. You may find it necessary to create new routines or to develop new forms of self-care. For many, life will not simply go back to normal once the immediacy of these stressors have passed, instead, the impacts will be ongoing and significant for the foreseeable future.
Increased Emphasis on Treatment
If there is a silver lining to our current climate, then perhaps it is the increased attention on mental wellness and mental health treatments. Now, more than any other point in history, there is ongoing, public conversations about the need for effective mental health treatment. Even more important, there is recognition for the need to provide culturally responsive care to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as they deal with the chronic stressors associated with racism. Culturally responsive care means providing high-quality care in a way that affirms and respects clients’ worth and preserves their dignity, while taking into account their unique cultural perspectives and needs.
It is incumbent upon those in the mental health community to explore ways to make treatment accessible to all who need it. We will likely see an increase in the utilization of services as the stigma around mental health continues to decrease and more individuals actively seek care for their unique needs.
Emphasis on Social Justice
As we reflect on the events of the past several months, it’s impossible to overlook the ways that mental health is impacted by racial trauma, inequality, and access to treatment. As a mental health community, more attention must be devoted to advocating for marginalized populations.
Advocacy is interwoven into the fabric of the practice of mental health counseling. In order to be an effective mental health professional, one must be willing to emphasize social justice for all, and take steps to effect change within the scope of the professional community.
Social justice initiatives that promote mental health care for BIPOC individuals, as well as those featuring culturally responsive practitioners providing culturally responsive care, are important to the ongoing well-being of those who need supportive care. Mental health treatment is one component of mental health care. It is equally important for mental health professionals to continue advocating for individuals who are most harmed by current systems of oppression.
The collective mental health of individuals across the world will likely be impacted by the current events for years to come. However, from this current moment in time there is space and opportunity for positive change and more inclusive growth. Change often comes from discomfort. It is important that we as a society actively use this moment to effect policies and practices to support and improve the well-being of individuals across this country.