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COVID-19 Brings Mental Health Into the Spotlight

How to raise awareness of mental health challenges and treatments.

Key points

  • The past year-and-a-half has produced a new appreciation for mental health, its treatment, and the value of mental health professionals.
  • Celebrity figures, politicians, and the like are increasingly speaking out and revealing their personal mental health journeys.
  • We all have a role to play in destigmatizing mental health concerns.
  • As we promote awareness of mental health, we should also highlight that mental health challenges can be addressed.

With the advent of COVID-19, multiple concerns became apparent. First and most urgent, the loss of life that rapidly swept over our country, and indeed our world, was bewildering. Second, the devastating toll it took on the healthcare workers stretched to their mental and physical limits while working to save the lives of those infected proved destabilizing. Third, the adverse impact that families suffered seen at every turn was troubling.

The grief, trauma, anger, depression, anxiety, and stress that gripped our nation and globe were experienced by many individuals who previously thought mental health concerns would and could never touch them. CDC data from 2019 reveal that during that year, 19.2 percent of adults had received any mental health treatment in the past 12 months, including 15.8 percent who had taken prescription medication for their mental health and 9.5 percent who received counseling or therapy from a mental health professional. While the 2020 and 2021 data have yet to be reported, one might surmise that these numbers have increased significantly during our current syndemic times.

The past year-and-a-half has produced a new appreciation for mental health, its importance, its treatment, and the value of psychologists and other mental health professionals. Some of the stigma that accompanied public sentiment regarding mental health and the need for treatment has decreased. The realization that mental health is a public concern—not just a “them” thing but potentially a “me” and “us” thing—has become front and center in our lives, homes, and media.

Initially, the focus was on that of frontline workers and their families, sheltered in place circumstances, and adjusting to life in a syndemic. While these concerns continue to be prominent, an interesting shift is gradually becoming evident: Mental health care is important for everyone, young and old, every intersectionality, and all socioeconomic statuses. COVID-19 made mental health an urgent matter and its sequelae have made mental health a mainstream one.

Making Mental Health More Mainstream

Celebrity figures, politicians, and the like are increasingly speaking out and revealing their personal mental health journeys, sending the message that it is OK not to be OK and that everyone needs help at some point in their lives. For example, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Brittney Spears, Michael Phelps, and Meghan Markel are just a few celebrities who have shared their private experiences with the public and emphasized the importance of destigmatizing mental health concerns. It is refreshing and reassuring to see people speak about the importance of practicing self-care and prioritizing mental health.

Our voices are powerful tools and can be used to spread positive messages about the necessity of making our mental health a priority, relying on others for support in times of need, and creating safe spaces within our spheres of influence. Using your voice might seem to be a daunting task due to the level of vulnerability inherent in expressing your feelings and experiences. However, suffering in silence is not a healthy alternative. Just as others have used their voices to raise awareness regarding the importance of maintaining good mental health, we all have a role to play in destigmatizing mental health concerns.

How Can I Help Promote Mental Health Awareness?

Much of the world seems to be opening its eyes to the impact of mental health, and now is a great time for all of us to contribute to this positive change. One way to be part of this change is to get involved with organizations that promote mental health awareness. An internet search can help you locate organizations near you or that focus on areas of your interest. Some organizations to consider are the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), and Shatterproof.

We can also make a difference in our day-to-day lives by talking with our friends and family about mental health and showing compassion for people who discuss their mental health challenges. We also shouldn’t underestimate our influence in the different settings we pass through, whether those are break rooms at work, PTA meetings, churches, neighborhood associations, Zoom meeting rooms, etc. By talking about mental health and our own experiences, we can help reduce stigma and normalize the impact that mental health has on all of us.

Finally, as we promote awareness of mental health, we should also highlight that mental health challenges can be addressed. Remind people that mental health services are available, including resources through government health departments, local hospitals, private practitioners, employee assistance programs, local and national organizations, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). By spreading awareness of mental health and available services, we not only help reduce the stigma of mental health but also empower people to obtain the support that they need.

By Erica D. Marshall-Lee, Ph.D., Shanteria Owens, Ph.D., and Scot R. Seitz, Ph.D., on behalf of the Atlanta Behavioral Health Advocates

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