On January 21, 2020, the CDC confirmed the first case of the novel coronavirus in the United States… which means it has been over a year since life as we knew it was overturned by this global pandemic. Not only have we become more fearful and vigilant about our physical health in the past year, but as a culture, we have also experienced a decline in our mental health as well.
Many of us have suffered from chronic stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression, grief and other intense emotions that can lead to serious impacts on our well-being. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that pandemic related circumstances such as financial hardship, loss of a loved one, isolation in quarantine and concern for the virus itself can trigger mental health issues or worsen existing conditions.
Elevated cases of substance abuse, insomnia, self-harm and thoughts of suicide have been reported too. Moreover, WHO points out, those with a pre-existing mental illness or a neurological disorder who contract COVID-19 can be more vulnerable to symptoms like delirium, agitation or stroke. They might also face a more severe risk of long-term complications—or even mortality—from the infection due to stress weakening their immune function.
This is a real and present danger that millions of us currently face. In the midst of such turbulence and uncertainty, our grasp on mental health can feel tenuous, imbalanced or out of control altogether. Across the board in our society, it seems most—if not, all—of us have experienced this to at least some degree. However, it would also be remiss to overlook the harsh reality that certain demographics are affected more than others. This inequity must be acknowledged, so we can work to reform it as a collective.
According to a 2020 survey from Mental Health America, this past year alone, a total of 315,220 people sought help, resources or interventions for anxiety, and 534,784 people sought help for depression—a 93 and 62 percent increase, respectively, from 2019. Of those who reported struggles with anxiety or depression, more than eight out of 10 exhibited severe or moderate symptoms since the pandemic began.
For another 37 percent of these individuals, consistent mental health burdens have turned into suicide or self-harm related thoughts, with 178,000 people overwhelmed from the pain of frequent—at times, daily—suicidal ideation. These alarming rates tend to be the most rampant among youth, in particular those who identify as LGBTQ+. As of September 2020, an estimated 77,470 adolescents between 11 and 17 experienced thoughts of self-harm or suicide, 27,980 of whom were LGBTQ+.
Racial marginalization had a substantial role to play in negative mental health outcomes as well last year, the data shows. More people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent sought mental health resources in 2020 than ever before, and while rates of anxiety, depression, loneliness or suicidal thoughts can affect everyone, certain racial and ethnic minorities are targeted the most. Of those surveyed, Black respondents were prone to higher levels of depression and anxiety, while Native American respondents were more prone to suicidal ideation.
This disparity can be further exacerbated by various socioeconomic factors, The Journal of American Industrial Medicine confirms. Whether due to income loss from the slump in our economy or wealth gaps that already existed before the pandemic but intensified as a result, there is a connection between mental health and financial stability.
In fact, among those with low income, 22.3 percent more men and 24.6 percent more women suffered from mental health issues than their wealthier counterparts last year. A lack of finances can also exclude people from access to basic healthcare, insurance benefits, or counseling and other therapeutic services which could make an enormous difference in their well-being and quality of life.
Now here in 2021, one year later since the impacts of COVID-19 entered our social consciousness, the overall state of mental health continues to unravel and escalate in real-time. So at The SunDaze Journey, we want anyone who is suffering to know that affordable resources are out there. We have created a breakdown of organizations, hotline numbers, virtual support groups and telehealth platforms to reach out to for assistance. Whatever this year brings, mental health must be a priority.
For a more in-depth conversation on both the personal and societal ramifications of this mental health crisis in the COVID-19 era, tune into our first episode of The SunDaze Journey Podcast airing February 3, 2021. Then share your feedback once you give it a listen—we look forward to continuing this discussion as the new year unfolds.