The COVID-19 crisis has profoundly changed our lives in ways we could have never imagined in 2019, and many have reported feeling high levels of anxiety and depression, some for the first time in their lives. An online survey by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), Census Bureau, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched in late April showed that one-third of Americans have felt symptoms of anxiety and one-fourth of Americans have showed signs of depression. In a similar survey by NCHS in 2019, only 11 percent of respondents showed signs of anxiety or depression.
The spike in mental-health concerns points to a need for greater accessibility to psychological support, as research from the Well Being Trust predicted that an additional 75,000 Americans could lose their lives to suicide, addiction, and other mental health-related problems as a result of the pandemic. But “it’s possible that we emerge from this with innumerable positive mental-health outcomes,” Jessica Gold, Ph.D., wrote in a TIME article, “Could COVID-19 Finally Destigmatize Mental Health?”
“To some degree, everyone is experiencing what life with anxiety is like,” wrote Gold, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. That means that, even though depression was already the leading cause of disability worldwide pre-pandemic, employers are finally being forced to openly discuss mental health in the workplace. On social media, many posters have dropped the facade of perfectly curated lifestyles out of necessity — with many still stuck in semi-isolation as the virus continues to devastate parts of the world, the exotic backgrounds and layers of makeup have been stripped back to casual depictions of home life. “Perhaps this will lead to more social connection,” Gold suggested, or lessen feelings of loneliness.
“Instead of looking at the post-COVID-19 mental health future through a lens of inevitable doom, we can, and should, use this moment as the impetus for the changes that mental health care has always pushed for,” Gold wrote, such as affordable mental health-care coverage, increased use of telemedicine — which has been mainstreamed during the pandemic, with virtual provider Teladoc reporting a 100-percent increase in medical visits between March and April — and the equal treatment of physical health and mental health.
“You cannot talk about the lack of … PPE without talking about the mental health repercussions,” Gold wrote, much like how we cannot discuss the patients who have died without addressing grief. “You also cannot talk about unemployment or social isolation,” Gold said, “without talking about anxiety and depression.”
Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.
This story is part of Convene‘s September CMP Series package on ways the world has changed since COVID-19 and what we hope will stick once the pandemic is behind us.