Caz of Mental Health 360º recently wrote about languishing and how people’s mental health has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It made me wonder, will this change how people look at mental health and illness?
Effects on mental health
Isolation, lockdown, and stressors like job loss and financial strain have certainly brought mental health more front-of-mind to the general public. A Statistics Canada survey that ran from September to December 2020 screened for major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and PTSD. Among Canadian adults, 21% screened positive for at least one of the three disorders (screening tests tell who might have a condition, but don’t narrow down who actually does have it). Depression was the most common, with 15% of people screening positive.
In the US, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that about 4 in 10 Americans have reported symptoms of a depressive or anxiety disorder, which has been fairly consistent throughout the pandemic. Among young adults, that figure jumps to 56%.
Freely accessible mental health supports have also popped up, like How Right Now from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wellness Together from the Government of Canada. In October 2020, the World Health Organization put on The Big Event to promote mental health, which I don’t recall hearing about.
It seems like governments and charitable organizations are trying to normalize paying attention to your mental health, which is a good thing. The resources I’ve come across online seem to be focused particularly on self-care, with limited access to counselling.
It seems to be about health rather than illness—not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it keeps it all a step removed from those of us who are ill. So is any of this likely to lead to changes in stigma?
Perhaps (and I hope) the challenges of the pandemic will make people better able to empathize with those who have an anxiety or depressive disorder. Then again, maybe empathy wouldn’t extend beyond those who are seen as having a good reason to be struggling. Hard to say. I think there’s less likelihood of a sort of empathy carry-over to other conditions, like bipolar or psychotic disorders.
Perhaps the best outcome is if this worldwide shitstorm makes it easier to have conversations, and continue having conversations, about mental health and illness. Who knows if it will happen, but one can hope.
Do you think the pandemic is likely to change the way people think about mental health/illness?
You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.