Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to become more aware of our own mental health and of those we love.
COVID-19 has impacted all of us in some way since it has come ashore and lingered for well past a year.
Some adults, teens and children have experienced their first mental health symptoms as the pandemic upended lives, workplace habits, home lives, children’s school experiences and aging parents.
In the United States, until COVID-19, anxiety disorders were our most often recognized and treated mental health disorders.
One in six Americans was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. That was followed by major depressive disorder, which was followed by bipolar disorder.
COVID-19 changed that. We only have partial statistics, but what we are seeing is troubling – though not unexpected.
Since 2018, we have seen a 41% increase in anxiety and depression during the pandemic. Such numbers are staggering.
So, the simple reality is that more and more folks across the nation are struggling with anxiety and depression.
In some ways, this is not surprising when we look at the radical shift COVID-19 has pushed on our culture and communities.
Americans live busy, well-ordered lives.
Going to work, sending kids off to school, shuttling children from school to their extracurricular activities, getting to church and the assorted opportunities church affords, having dinner with friends and family.
Suddenly, in a flash, our world changed.
Extracurricular activities were canceled for the indefinite future. If one’s job survived the pandemic, it may now involve working from home. Many children are still in distance or hybrid learning, and in-person church is still the exception rather than the rule.
Perhaps since the Great Depression, no generation has suffered more radical change than the COVID-19 changes through which we have been living.
As a result, depression and anxiety are at all-time highs for adults, children and teens.
So, how should we respond?
Even though I am a mental health therapist, I have struggled like everyone else during the pandemic. With that acknowledgement, here are a few suggestions:
- Recognize that it is all right for you and your children to struggle.
It is important to affirm the gravity of the situation and the challenges we have faced. There is redemptive value in naming the problem and acknowledging its reality.
- If you are already on psychotropic medication or have a child on psychotropic medication, meet with your doctor to ensure the current dosage is working.
Medication is stress sensitive; more stress may indicate less effectiveness. It does not mean the medication no longer works; rather, it indicates the stress has increased.
So, a conversation with the physician who prescribed the medication or medications might be appropriate. It is possible when things return to normal that the dosage can be reduced.
- Acknowledge that it is not a weakness to take time to talk to a counselor when you’re struggling with anxiety, depression or both.
In the field of mental health, if your anxiety or depression does not intrude into your daily functioning, then, technically, it is not a problem. However, when it begins to intrude into your routine, it is time to seek help and counsel.
Most often, health insurance will cover mental health treatment. Of course, you may have to pay a copay like when you see your family practice physician or primary care provider.
One of the positive results of COVID-19 is that “virtual” counseling is now widely available, which means that often you can access this resource from your home with either a smartphone or a computer.
Mental health clinicians have adapted to this new medium, and it will most likely not go away following the pandemic.
- Stay connected to your faith community.
Many congregations are beginning to return to in-person gatherings, where previously only online worship has been offered.
One should be wise in deciding to return to in-person worship. An indication that you may be ready is being fully vaccinated.
Make sure you have had the required number of shots and at least two weeks between the second shot and your appearance in worship.
Be aware your congregational leadership may ask you to continue to wear a mask, but realize that even with a mask, your presence in worship will be powerful and encouraging.
- Keep in mind this pandemic is for a season. It may feel like it will never end, but it will.
I often think of the man who said, quoting from the King James Version of the scripture, that his favorite passage was, “And it came to pass.” That has stayed with me across more years than I care to remember.
Life is like that. This pandemic year has “come to pass.”
Wash your hands, wear your double mask for others, mind the gap and be kind.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for Mental Health Awareness Month (May). The previous articles in the series are:
Don’t Stigmatize Others Seeking Mental Health Services | Autumn Lockett
9 Ways to Overcome Pandemic’s Shadowy Grip | Gillian Drader
Limited Access, Funding Plague Mental Health Care | Monty Self
A private practice counselor working with veterans and survivors of trauma. Previously, Chancellor served four churches in Texas for 33 years, then ran a Mental Health Department of Alan B. Polunsky Maximum Security prison which houses death row.