The pandemic is not over. Far from it. Some countries are still struggling to attain and distribute vaccines. In the US, vaccine hesitancy has led to a new wave of full ICUs in certain regions. However, we are approaching the tailend of the pandemic, and we can look back with some hindsight at the events of the past year and a half.
Mental illness has been fairly overlooked during the pandemic. While the potential impact of a lockdown on mental health was used as a political talking point in March 2020, people unaffected by mental illness have focused mainly on the physical health and economic consequences.
But there have been lessons learnt, both by mental health professionals as well as those of us grappling with mental illness. Looking back at our collective as well as individual experiences, we can start to consolidate these lessons.
These are 3 of the most significant mental health lessons learned from the pandemic.
1. Collective trauma has consequences
It would be easy to say that the clearest lesson learnt is the impact of isolation on mental health. However, the truth is that this surprised no one. Mental health professionals and individuals who had struggled with mental illness geared up for it from the start. The impact of collective trauma, on the other hand, is something we are only starting to understand.
There have of course been collective traumas in the recent past. However, COVID-19 is very different, in that it has been slow and somewhat invisible. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from the virus, but there are still millions of people who have not personally lost anyone. Trying to assimilate this new reality into our lives has taken a lot out of us.
Some people speak about a ubiquitous feeling of sadness. Others turn to conspiracy theories, social media debates, and the neverending news cycle for a sense of control. No matter what approach people have taken to deal with the collective trauma of the pandemic, they are aware of how much it has impacted them in some significant way.
2. Information can make us feel powerless
The saying “Knowledge is Power” is very simplistic, if not necessarily incorrect. Objective knowledge would be very powerful, but it is impossible to attain. Information, on the other hand, is all too available. If it was just information that made someone an expert, we would all be experts on the virus by now. But information, even when accurate, is nothing without our personal contexts, and it does not guarantee any sort of power.
It is no coincidence that many people paid for online courses at the start of the pandemic only to leave them half-completed. The longer the pandemic raged on, and the more obvious it became that there were no easy solutions, the more information began to feel like a burden. It felt like we needed to know everything about everything, including epidemiology, economics, politics, society, public health, and science.
This is not to say that finding accurate information is not important. However, it is important to look for it in the right places. The endless information on social media platforms only makes people feel more powerless. Taking a break from social media and 24 hour news is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
3. Everyone can struggle with mental health
People who had long been diagnosed with mental illness were somewhat prepared to manage the crisis. It has been a more difficult situation than many anticipated, but having done work on your mental health in the past was an advantage. What we have learned as the pandemic has worn on is that even those who do not have a mental illness can struggle with mental health.
We all know at least one person who is generally able to regulate their emotions and power through hard times, who just broke down at some point during the pandemic. Everyone can struggle with mental health, even if they will never be diagnosed with a mental illness.
This does reinforce the fact that everyone can benefit from therapy. We all need to take care of our mental health, no matter how “okay” we might feel.