A Tale of Two Cities

People in mental health expected the worst from the pandemic. Jobs have been lost, people have isolated without significant human contact for over a year, clinics and hospitals were either closed or online, and doctor and therapist visits on Zoom were challenging at best.

So what happened?

As with so many other measures of outcome in the world right now the bifurcation between those who have done well and those who have not is striking.

The good news? In June the number of Americans who consider themselves and their families to be thriving, a key measure of happiness, hit a thirteen-year high at 59.2% These people face a good situation today and rate their future prospects as very bright. Obviously, most people have recovered well from the challenges of the pandemic, and the political and social challenges of the last year, and they look forward to even better days ahead. We should celebrate this.

And we should consider the rest of the story.

We are a resilient, optimistic people, and for most of us America holds out boundless promise and opportunity. But a challenged group, many with persistent mental illness, still suffers. The percentage of people suffering in America stubbornly grinds on at 3.4%. This number has held throughout the pandemic and holds still today.

Illustrative of the suffering that exists are the facts that overdoses in 2020 were up 30% over 2019 (256 people in America died each day from overdose), and suicide attempts by teen girls increased 51% in the winter of 2021.

Maybe it’s too soon to accurately know what to make of this. But it’s not good. Students in schools that remained closed throughout the year suffered inordinately, so we must make sure schools fully reopen in the fall, thus making everything from human contact to access to counselors possible. Opioids remain a scourge, especially for working-aged men who find themselves struggling in a changing, challenging economy. Outreach, treatment and training opportunities must be reinforced or developed.

We are called upon, especially in disruptive times, to help those who struggle. These are problems we can impact locally, in our communities, in churches and community groups. Big initiatives can be unfocused and inefficient, but individuals who reach out and offer small but caring help can make a tremendous positive impact. When problems loom so large it’s difficult to know where to begin to address them and how one person, or one family, can make a difference. But we each can make a difference.

Certainly someone close to you is still having a hard time bouncing back as society tries to reopen. Reach out to them and be gently available. Don’t be too quick to offer advice. Be present and with honest curiosity listen.

Community is the key to wellness, and the shutdown has ripped many communities to shreds. As we put things back together, and stay vigilant against voices who want to maintain or reimpose social restrictions, we must recreate communities of care. Many people are doing very well. But for some, the isolation of mental illness, cruelly reinforced by mandated societal isolation, has taken a terrible toll. 

If you’re doing well, reach out to someone you know who isn’t. Human contact is a tremendous cure. Let’s offer it with the same enthusiasm we offer vaccines, and beat not only Covid-19, but also the mental illness that has worsened for many during our response to the pandemic.

Other Reading

This week I published two pieces I invite you to take a look at. The first is an article on gun rights and mental illness at Broad + Liberty. The other is a creative post called The Unmarked Grave at The Cemetery Traveler. Also, my book Resilience: Handling Anxiety in a Time of Crisis is still available and includes some valuable information that can help anyone recover from the mental health challenges of the pandemic.

Thanks, as always.