Well, hallo and welcome back, you beautiful convergence of minds on a mission to mostly just miss the next five minutes of dead space. Empty space? Dead air. Radio silence! The state of things these days…what a shitshow. Ammiright? For the past couple of weeks, I’ve thought about writing on a few different “COVID and” topics but one stands out more than the rest. Surprise! It’s mental health.
In the past month alone, how many times have you heard someone bring up the importance of mental health? Obviously, there are many reasons why:
- Mental instability/unrest does not a successful quarantine make
- Isolation—it’s lonely
- Pandemics stir up fear and uncertainty, taking away any sense of control
According to Psychiatrists Beware! The Impact of COVID-19 and Pandemics on Mental Health, published on March 15, “Although the effects of the coronavirus on mental health have not been systematically studied, it is anticipated that COVID-19 will have rippling effects, especially based on current public reactions. On an individual level, it may differentially exacerbate anxiety and psychosis-like symptoms as well as lead to non-specific mental issues (e.g., mood problems, sleep issues, phobia-like behaviors, panic-like symptoms).” You know, all the fun ones!
So, what does COVID-19 mean for those of us dealing with our own mental illness(es)? Means you’ve got to put some work in, friend. I think it’s fairly safe to say that a majority of people are not in an ideal situation. You’re either out of work or overworked, living in isolation or stuck in a house with too many people, maybe you don’t have enough supplies or money, your neighbors are playing “Eye of the Tiger” way too loud on repeat and you cannot rise to the challenge again or so help you God… What? Oh, right, yes.
Regardless of what your situation might be, you’re likely going to have to put in more effort than normal (that’s more effort than you normally would, as well as more effort than “normal” people) to stay balanced. According to Managing and Understanding Mental Health Concerns During the COVID-19 Pandemic, “For some, it is or will be critical to seek out professional mental health care, especially for those who are already experiencing mental health issues like substance use disorder, depression, and anxiety. Many therapists are now offering telehealth services, so individuals do not have to leave their homes to receive care.” There are numerous telehealth/teletherapy offerings, so that’s definitely worth looking into.
For those of you still working, you may be hearing twice the amount of “take care of your mental health” talk, because employers are harping on it. Some of this talk is out of genuine concern. I don’t mind saying that. I’m even confident in saying that. But also, this is business. According to Jason Wingard’s article, Mental Health In The Workplace: Leading In The COVID-19 Context, “Today’s leaders no longer have a choice about whether or not to advocate for mental health. They need to vocally address the issue, describing their own challenges and urging team members to seek help if they, for example, feel hyper-lonely from self-isolation or debilitatingly anxious about the spread of COVID-19.”
Our mental health—and that includes our employers, who are also people who put their pants on one leg at a time (they’re just like us!)—our capacity to use logic, reason, and common sense uninhibited by paranoia, anxiety, self-doubt, compulsive behavior, suspicion, etc., is kind of what helps to keep a business running smoothly. “In fact, the W.H.O. estimates that every $1 invested into ‘treatment for common mental disorders’ will return $4 in improved health and productivity,” explains Wingard.
So, if you’re still working, you might be at one of those jobs where you are a touch overworked just at the moment. Maybe it seems like you can’t take a mental health day. But why does it seem like that? The CDC, the W.H.O., your employer (probably) are all telling you to take care of your mental health! So why does it feel like you can’t take a mental health day? According to Wingard, “In 2019, a Mental Health America survey of 10,000 workers found that 55% were afraid to take a mental health day because they thought they would be punished.”
It kind of still feels like that, right? You’re being urged to protect your mental health but maybe the company you work for is understaffed, people are sick. Maybe layoffs are happening and if you take off, you may look expendable. It may seem like you look less than invaluable. We’re in this very uncomfortable position where we’re being told to take care of ourselves, but we’re scared that we’ll lose our livelihood if we try. That’s why I’m going to leave you all with one piece of advice:
No, Dave, it’s not any of the song lyrics that would normally follow (although, if I had to choose, it would be to collaborate and listen). Sure, I could make false predictions all day long and whisper sweet nothings into your ear until you got a restraining order, but let’s not go there. I’m trying to earn your trust after all.
My advice is: Just stop. Take a moment to just sit down and regroup. Try letting your thoughts go on autopilot and see what comes to the forefront. If something jumps out, then maybe that’s a problem/desire/tangible thing you can focus on to start getting your thoughts in order, achieving a sense of mental balance. If nothing really pops out more than anything else, that’s okay. Sometimes just taking a moment to stop helps settle the mind. Ultimately, you need to figure out what is best for you. If taking a day off work is going to be more stressful than not, then don’t do it. But if you need a mental health day, do not be afraid to take it. You are worth taking care of! And, please, if you or anyone you know is or may be contemplating harm to themselves or others, get help immediately.