Why COVID-19 Changed the Way Americans Face Mental Health
Some good has come out of COVID-19, with more people considering and prioritizing their mental health. For some, focusing on mental health as being just important as physical health is nothing new-although it's relatively new in the overall attitude of the U.S. That's why mental health resources can be difficult to access, and they aren't as well-covered (if at all) by standard insurance plans compared to physical health.
For those who have undertaken care for their mental health, they know how critical it is, especially in a crisis and with stress management. For those who adopted the common attitude of "pushing through things" and over piling their plate, COVID-19 has been a wakeup call.
The reality is that our mental health affects every other facet of ourselves. When our mental health is ignored, our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social health will also suffer.
This isn't always obvious, especially when we live in an era of it being normal to boast about how little sleep we get or how busy we are. Sometimes it takes a major crisis to force us to look at our mental health. For a lot of people, that crisis was COVID.
Mental Health Matters
Our mental health can seem particularly challenging because it's not always obvious. For example, what does depression look like? Depression is a diagnosable mental disorder, but it can present differently in different people.
Most of us have an idea of what depression looks like, but it's usually a cinematic version or colored by our own personal experiences (for instance, maybe we had a parent who was depressed). In a lot of cases, we think depression looks like Eeyore and is very obvious-and often helped by medication.
Depression can actually present in a number of ways. It's also a co-morbidity with a number of other issues including anxiety and eating disorders. When there are co-morbidities it can be even more difficult to gauge what the symptoms of depression are. In the end, only a professional can diagnose any mental health concern, and since we're all individuals our symptoms might all look a little different.
At the core, though, the result of not caring for mental health can look very similar. It can destroy our physical body and our relationships. Mental disorders vary in severity and aren't necessarily linear.
For example, many consider an eating disorder (which includes a range of disorders from anorexia nervosa to binge-eating disorder) to be "curable," but a lot of professionals think otherwise. Instead, eating disorders are sometimes more likened to alcoholism (which is a disease) that can be managed-or not-throughout life. It's usually more cyclical than linear. When leaving rehab early, either from an eating disorder or alcohol abuse, that sets us up for failure when it comes to long-term mental health care.
Caring for Our Mental Health
Ideally, you see your physician once per year at the bare minimum, but mental health often requires more usual check-ins. Like physical health, it also demands daily best practices.
For example, you can't simply go to your general practitioner annually and expect a flawless physical. You need regular exercise, a good diet-and solid mental health. Mental health self-care might include regularly seeing a counselor, adopting a meditation practice, and/or changing self-talk habits.
Guidance is key for many of us, and COVID has shown us that there are many ways to connect with a mental health expert that don't require the traditional in-person couch session. Telemedicine is booming, convenient, and often more affordable for those paying out of pocket. Some also consider it "easier" since there's a little buffer of a screen between ourselves and the expert.