Due to COVID, we are on the verge of a mental health epidemic. According to Hartford Health, “Experts call it the underlying crisis. While COVID-19 cases spike around the country, more than one-third of Americans report related depression and anxiety.” Every 12 minutes someone dies by suicide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 46 percent of people who lose their lives to suicide have a mental illness.
According to the experts, we will be dealing with COVID for the foreseeable future. “Every clinician and epidemiologist agree COVID is not leaving. We’ll be dealing with COVID until at least 2025,” said Dr. Anthony Harris, M.D., chief innovation officer for WorkCare. According to Harris, this prolonged vigilance is due to number of factors. “First, for everyone person infected by the virus, 2.5 people are infected. Second, is because the length of infectivity is about 10 days. Third, even when we get a vaccine, immunity in all probability will only last approximately six months at best.”
“This situation is unique from what we might expect from the models of what emotional response to a disaster looks like,” said Dr. Johannes Thrul, assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “With COVID and the pandemic, we are dealing with a different situation. We are dealing with something that is sustained. With COVID the situation is much more drawn out — the insecurity, the financial impact, and the uncertainty of what’s happening. We have yet to see the full consequences of the pandemic.”
Due to COVID, we are all wrestling with depression or mental illness in some form or fashion. If not ourselves, we are seeing it in the lives of our children. “Actually, what the administrators are saying is that every single kid they have encountered is having an issue right now. There is no comparison with what has happened in the past. These kids are making history,” said Robin Glenn, LPC, founder of BASE Education.
The first thing we need to do is change the narrative. People who wrestle with their mental health need to be destigmatized. They are not weak. They are mental health warriors. “Medication compliance isn’t easy. It’s rather heroic when you consider how difficult it can be. But it’s critical for those of us who need these drugs to live productive, healthy lives. Pill shaming doesn’t occur with insulin. There is no reason it should occur with medications used to treat a brain dysfunction,” Terri Cheney said in “Modern Madness: An Owner’s Manual.”
Through the NAMI Peer-to-Peer class, I learned that living through my psychotic break, I had lived through a traumatic event. Immediately after my psychotic break, I did not want to believe that I had a mental illness. I kept asking my psychiatrist to reduce my dosage, but then I couldn’t sleep. Getting a mental illness diagnosis feels like a death sentence. In a way it is. Your old self has died. My psychologist explained to me that having a psychotic break is like having a psychological house with a cracked foundation. Not only that, there’s a pit underneath your house. So, when the foundation breaks, your entire psychological house falls down into the pit and breaks into a thousand pieces. After my psychotic break, I threw out everything I believed and started over from scratch. I had to walk through each of the stages of the grief process — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — until I accepted the new me with a mental health diagnosis.
The reality with COVID is that we all are living through a traumatic event. The first step in the process is to walk through the grief process. COVID has changed our lives forever. From this day forward we all need to be conscious of our mental health.
“The more we can get ready to anticipate the long-term consequences, the better off we will be,” Thrul said. “Even if COVID goes away sooner than we think, then it’s for the better. I think if the opposite is true, as a society we are going to have to rethink how we make decisions that will help us in the long run.”
Managing my mental illness means managing all the areas of my life: my sleep, medication, diet, exercise, actions, thoughts, etc. When thinking about managing all these areas, a Rubik’s cube comes to mind. Like matching up the reds, yellows, blues, etc., I must make sure my diet, exercise, medications, sleep cycle are all lined up. Managing a mental illness takes a lot of trial and error in every aspect of my life. How do I manage it? Through my daily regimen.
I like to call my routine a regimen. According to Google, “regimen is a prescribed course of medical treatment, way of life, or diet for the promotion or restoration of health.” For me, my regimen consists of all the moving parts that make up my mental illness. Like the reds, yellows and blues of a Rubik’s cube, I must fit them together precisely to work in harmony.
If you are wrestling with loneliness, depression, or suicidal thoughts due to your life circumstances or COVID, please know that you are not alone. Reach out for help. Together we can do this. I am living proof that there is life after a mental illness diagnosis.
For sake of our children, we all need to begin to take our mental health seriously. As my good friend Chad tells me, “You didn’t read it in a book, Danei, you live it.” Through this new series, I will be talking about practical tangible solutions that worked in my life and the lives of others to manage our mental illness and live “in recovery,” as NAMI calls it.
Everyone feels like they are fighting for their lives. We have all become mental health warriors!
Danei Edelen is the president for the NAMI Brown County Ohio affiliate. She is a mental health advocate for the Brown County Board of Mental Health & Addiction Services. For more information on NAMI Brown County Ohio, call 937-378-3504 ext. 102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.