Can you think of an event with greater paradigm-shifting potential than a global pandemic?
Since we first heard of COVID, we have collectively borne witness to its emotional cost. Loneliness, anxiety, social isolation, uncertainty, and so very much more. It has been a taxing time for nearly everyone- some, of course, experienced these factors more acutely and intensely than others, because COVID deepened the existing inequities in society.
In the midst of a crisis, humans have a tendency to mobilize and adapt. Sometimes we find strength we did not think we had, and coping strategies we may never have been able to lean on otherwise.
There is opportunity in crisis- a new mental health culture. And perhaps we have begun to tap into it as a society.
Read on to learn more :)
Times Were A-Changing Long Before Covid
Mental health culture has been shifting for years, well before COVID.
A New York Times article describes the rise of 'Therapy-Speak'. While actual mental health declines, our need to name, label, call out- in other words, understand- ourselves and the minutiae of our psyche increases.
Here is a quote from the article capturing how our lives are being increasingly centred on understanding ourselves:
"We joke about our coping mechanisms, codependent relationships, and avoidant attachment styles. We practice self-care and shun “toxic” acquaintances. We project and decathect; we are triggered, we say wryly, adding that we dislike the word; we catastrophize, ruminate, press on the wound, process. We feel seen and we feel heard, or we feel unseen and we feel unheard, or we feel heard but not listened to, not actively. We diagnose and receive diagnoses: O.C.D., A.D.H.D., generalized anxiety disorder, depression. We’re enmeshed, fragile. Our emotional labor is grinding us down. We’re doing the work. We need to do the work."
Of course, it's not the complete story. Many BIPOC communities and children of immigrants continue to struggle with the ongoing impact of intergenerational trauma on their mental health and the mental health of their family members.
With Covid came a whole new and excruciatingly relatable experience- languishing.
In a viral NYT article, the author describes that ongoing emptiness, numbness, and lack of motivation in a succinct term that nearly took our breath away, it was so relatable.
And this is perhaps, the central theme of a newly emerging mental health culture- relatable services that cater to our unique and highly varied experiences.
What Is New In Mental Health?
Let's count the ways :)
1) We Recognize The Social Determinants Of Health More Than Ever
The social determinants of health (SDH) are non-medical factors that influence our health and wellbeing
SDH include anything that shapes the conditions of our daily lives. Here is a more specific list:
- Income and job security
- Food security
- Ability and Disability
- Gender and gender identity
- Housing security and access to basic amenities
- Discrimination and systemic racism (many 'isms' and 'phobias' can be included here)
- Access to healthcare (including mental healthcare)
- Access to community support and socialization
- Economic policies. social norms, and political systems
SDH are crucial to understanding and challenging health inequities in our society. And this includes mental health inequities.
The Canadian Mental Health Association notes that freedom from discrimination and violence, social inclusion, and access to economic resources are three social determinants of health that are particularly important for mental health.
As mentioned above, the pandemic amplified our existing inequities. We began to have conversations about race and mental health in spaces where this was previously non-existent. The need for race-based health and mental health data became clear and we are all better for it.
2) There Is More Collective Empathy For Mental Health Issues
None of us have been untouched by feelings of anxiety, sadness, and loneliness during the pandemic. It has been difficult for everyone.
In light of this, greater collective empathy is emerging for mental health issues. You may have noticed this at work! As our personal and professional lives blur together, employers are generally more understanding about mental health challenges. We are all in this together- and this has stretched our capacity for empathy.
3) Stigma Is Being Challenged
There is clearly value in de-stigmatizing mental health issues. Reducing stigma means we have safe places (and people) to confide in.
Talking about mental health sheds light on the reality that everyone goes through low points in life and many of us experience serious mental health issues that affect our day-to-day functioning. Not talking about mental health means we feel isolated and alone in our struggles when nothing could be farther from the truth.
Stigma is increasingly losing its power over our decisions about mental health. More than ever, people are willing to discuss their struggles and share in each other's pain. We have a deeper understanding that we need each other. We also share a sharper collective understanding of our responsibility to manage our mental health as rigorously as our physical health.
4) Therapy Is Becoming A Natural Resort
Not only are more people recognizing the benefits of therapy, but we are also beginning to see the value of therapy outside of a crisis. Yes, as a natural resort rather than a last resort.
Cost is of course, a major societal barrier to therapy. With time, we are seeing an increase in free/low-cost therapy options and hope to this this trend continue!
I want to hear from you: What have you noticed about mental health culture? Are you more comfortable sharing your struggles and talking about mental health than you were even 5 years ago? We would love to know!
Until next time!
Mental Health Content Specialist