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How COVID-19 Changed Our Views on Mental Health

COVID-19 has taken lives and livelihoods—and has changed how we live.

Key points

  • Providers and patients seeking mental healthcare successfully switched to teletherapy during COVID-19, despite little (or no) experience with it.
  • Additionally, the pandemic has helped many people adapt and foster more care for their internal environments.
  • Mass amounts of people fled into the wild outdoors in hopes of clearing their heads and finding peace.
  • The pandemic, for all its hardships, broke down barriers and de-stigmatized mental health and addiction.

Stay-at-home orders, unemployment, loneliness, economic shutdown, climbing death rates, masks, and social distancing have been the theme for 2020 and will most likely also be the theme for 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world. It has taken lives and livelihoods and has changed how we work, how we go to school, how we interact with others, and how we view the world.

Even if the virus has not infected us personally, we have all been affected. We have stayed home, learned to adapt through virtual interactions, and adopted creative outlets to spend our time. Some of us have learned new skills and had to drastically change the way we make an income while others continue to struggle to make ends meet.

Many of us have struggled with feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety during this pandemic. Some have turned to alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy relationships with food as ways to deal with our feelings. Mental health, addiction, eating disorders, domestic abuse, and suicidal thoughts have been on the rise during the pandemic. Regardless of our opinions about this pandemic, the economy, or the politics involved, COVID-19 has changed the way we are viewing mental health.

We connected with our therapists through virtual platforms.

When COVID-19 began, the world had to quickly adapt. Both people seeking mental health care and mental health care providers had to immediately switch to teletherapy despite little (or no) experience with it. Before the pandemic, studies had already shown that teletherapy is effective for many mental health concerns, but this pandemic has solidified the importance, convenience, and effectiveness of teletherapy.

Research on teletherapy, which includes care delivered via phone, video, or both, began around 1960. It grew out of a need to treat hard-to-reach populations—for instance, when a forensic psychologist assessed an individual who was incarcerated and referred them to a geographically distant provider for specialized care. Over the decades, research has shown that teletherapy is as effective as in-person therapy; however, this form of virtual therapy did not become particularly popular until the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although there is still more research that is needed to determine the effectiveness of teletherapy in certain populations, including children and the elderly, overall, teletherapy has changed the way we are practicing mental health and it will most likely continue to thrive after we overcome the pandemic. Thanks to teletherapy, services to manage general mental health, eating disorders, and addiction are more accessible to those of us who have access to Wi-Fi. We can connect with a therapist at any hour of the day from the comfort of our own homes. We can jump on a quick video call or chat to discuss rising anxious feelings instead of waiting weeks for an appointment. Our mental health can be addressed right away, instead of having lingering signs and symptoms that can put us into an unhealthy downward spiral.

Even when the pandemic comes to an end and things return back to “normal,” the hope is that we can continue to take advantage of the benefits of teletherapy, as this has been a wonderful adaptation that has come out of this life-changing pandemic.

We reflected and adopted self-care routines.

It is nearly impossible to browse the Internet these days without coming across an article that addresses self-care during the pandemic. COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our lives and as a result, we have learned to adapt and foster more care for our internal environments. Many of us have learned to be still, to be OK with being alone, and to stay at home and find ways to nurture our minds and bodies.

Maybe we never thought about our mental health before or reflected on our feelings or our past. But the pandemic has forced us to take a look at our mental health and find ways to take action to care for ourselves through self-care.

In my view, it is truly heartwarming to watch videos of individuals on social media who are learning to adapt and care for themselves in creative ways. This pandemic has taught us adaptation, resiliency, creativity, and self-love. Whether we are cooking for ourselves, exercising at home, connecting with our loved ones through virtual platforms, or learning new hobbies and pastimes, COVID-19 has allowed us to be more in tune with our feelings and emotions.

We have been given the gift of time and stillness, which has allowed us to practice self-care. Hopefully, when this pandemic ends, we can continue to practice self-care and take a solid inventory of our emotions and feelings throughout the day.

We embraced the outdoors.

During the pandemic, I walked into my local outdoor store to purchase a mountain bike. To my surprise, they were sold out—not just in that store, but everywhere. There was a four-month backorder on all mountain bikes across the United States. When I brought this up with my friends, I quickly learned that this was also true for campers and motorhomes, paddleboards, and the outdoor industry in general.

We were told we could not travel and that we must socially distance. But we could get into the outdoors to hike, bike, camp, and fish. As a result, mass amounts of people fled into the wild outdoors in hopes of clearing their heads and finding peace.

Recreating in wide-open spaces not only allows us to socially distance but it has allowed us to connect with nature, an incredible coping mechanism. Learning to ski or camp are lifelong lessons and experiences that, hopefully, can be used as healthy coping mechanisms when we are stressed or feeling down.

We broke down barriers and destigmatized mental health.

COVID-19 has done a number on our mental health. Many individuals who lived full, successful lives before the pandemic have been shaken to their core. Individuals who never imagined they would experience feelings of depression or anxiety are now learning that mental health disorders can affect anyone at any time.

We have spoken out about our mental health on social media, we are sharing our feelings and emotions with others, we are advocating for therapy, and as a result, we are breaking down some of the stigma associated with mental health and addiction. The pandemic has broken us down and has shown us that we all are at risk for developing depression or a substance use disorder. Hopefully when we return back to our “normal lives,” we can still continue to recognize and fight for access to mental health treatment.

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be widely available, many of us have hope that the pandemic will soon end. However, the mental health and economic repercussions will last years. Suicide rates may continue to be on the rise and many individuals will likely continue to struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety.

We must continue to check in with ourselves and with each other, we must continue to fight for access to mental health treatment, we must continue to find peace and self-care in the outdoors, and we must continue to engage in therapy when needed and share our experiences with others. Hopefully, mental health and addiction will no longer exclude people from becoming successful components of society, especially when our world returns to “normal.”

A version of this post also appears on Very Well Mind.

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