Perhaps you recall the 1980’s run on Cabbage Patch dolls? Or the crazed demand for Tickle-Me-Elmo’s in the 90’s? These frenzied pursuits were different from our clamor for dogs in 2020, the year our lives had collectively been turned upside down. Many felt isolated and lonely, desperate for connection with another living being.
2020 was the year that the pounds and pet stores and breeders ran out of dogs.
To say it was a stressful year would be a massive understatement. In one year we faced a global pandemic, weird natural phenomena, racial strife and violence in our streets, political division, and isolation. It was a collective trauma, and we will likely continue to see the fallout for some time.
At the same time as the Covid-19 pandemic, a parallel pandemic occurred – one that wasn’t often mentioned – a mental health crisis. As we closed ourselves in and shut the world out, we faced isolation, job loss, financial strain, concern for our own health or the health of loved ones, and grief. We faced uncertainty and the unknown. It is the collection of these factors that involved aspects of health, economy, and social norms that also impacted mental health so profoundly.
It may help to keep in mind that struggling with mental health does not mean mental illness (having a diagnosed mental health condition). Our mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. There is no need to pathologize a struggle with depression or anxiety. Like physical health, mental health exists on a continuum. Someone without a mental illness can have poor mental well-being, just as someone with mental illness can have excellent mental well-being. Like physical health, maintaining your mental health is an ongoing process that requires attention, regardless of circumstances.
Personally, as someone who teaches yoga at Ridgeview Institute, a recovery hospital for substance abuse and mental health issues, I saw the fallout first hand. An already stressed and overtaxed mental health system became overwhelmed. Often, beds could not be located for those who needed stabilization – not in GA and not in most other states. It was not uncommon for patients to be transported hundreds of miles away to receive care.
The fallout of this parallel pandemic continues, to varying degrees. As we stepped into 2022, many American adults found themselves struggling with mental health. According to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, 47% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety, and 39% reported symptoms of depression. These estimates have jumped to approximately 4 in 10 adults who report anxiety and/or depression, up from 1 in 10 prior to January 2019.
In addition, a KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 also found that many adults are reporting negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress. A national survey of U.S. adults found that excessive drinking (such as binge drinking) increased by 21%. Despite this increase in need for mental health support, it is estimated that less than half of those who need help seek treatment.
The silver lining in this sad situation is that this pandemic has opened up the conversation about mental health. The conversation about emotional health is relevant for everyone, and conversation reduces the associated stigma. It seems our awareness has been heightened about the importance of mental health to overall well-being. A paradigm shift is occurring. The difficulties of the past couple of years have cracked stigma’s armor. The barriers that have, for so long, shut people off from seeking and receiving help are beginning to crumble.
With that in mind, as we regain our footing, a first step might be to recognize that the pandemic has been a slow-moving trauma that we collectively experienced. With this recognition, we can take necessary steps to care for our individual needs. Doing so might mean addressing mental health challenges that intensified during the pandemic, or it might mean facing depression and anxiety, or other challenges, for the first time.
Here are a few ideas to care for your well-being as we emerge from the past two years:
Every individual is unique. If you have felt stressed, anxious, or are struggling, I want to encourage you to talk about it. There are solutions! Almost daily, I witness people elevate their health and well-being. You are worth it.
Cindi Broda is a health and wellness coach and owner of Dynamic Wellness, LLC. She works with women over 45 to create a vibrant and active life so that they may enjoy their second half of life. Cindi can be reached at [email protected] or her webpage can be found at www.dynamicwellness.life.
We are so excited to Have Cindi be our newest contributor to the Mezza on our Living Section. Jacqueline Grund Editor of the Mezza.