Mental health concerns during a pandemic

August 5, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a rise in depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. If you're struggling, you're not alone.

Are you struggling? Do you feel overwhelmed, depressed, and pessimistic about the future? You’re not alone. Many of us are struggling with the same stressors—financial, emotional, and spiritual. Talking about them and writing about them can help you work through these emotions, whereas keeping them to yourself can overwhelm the most grounded person.

The U.S. has lost 30 million jobs since this pandemic began. The frightening thing is that it is not over yet. Just look at every industry: hospitality has been decimated; retail is struggling; restaurants are in survival mode. The list of industries goes on and on. These businesses are trying to balance reopening while complying with CDC guidelines and it’s a lot of trial and error.

Of course, the dental industry is not immune to these challenges, and this brings up many questions. Are dentists retiring instead of continuing their practices? Are dental students going to be able to practice and pay down student debt when they graduate?

If you are lucky enough to still have a job, do you have any job security? Will practices have to cut salaries or cut hours to stay afloat? If you do not have a job, how will you pay bills, have any health insurance, and keep a roof over your head? I know I am asking a lot of questions that there are no answers to. I am not trying to be all doom and gloom, but this is real, and we are going to be dealing with this situation for a long time to come. Anxiety has colored this pandemic for months and there’s no end in sight. These fears are both personal and global.

This pandemic has seen a rise in domestic violence, alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. Recently, Chris Cuomo on CNN shared his struggle with depression due to COVID-19 recovery. When a public figure shares they are going to a therapist, it lets people know that there is no shame in the struggle. Mental health has such a negative stigma when it should be treated as an illness. We do not visit, call, or text when someone has a hospitalization or is discharged from treatment for a mental health issue. We treat mental illnesses differently than we do other health concerns. Reflect on the last time a loved one, friend, or colleague received a health diagnosis. What was your reaction? When health diagnoses or hospitalizations happen, we show up. Do we do that when someone is fighting depression or anxiety?

I have watched friends struggle with the pandemic. Introverts may be doing better than extroverts who desperately wants to be with people, but the isolation is taking a toll on all of us. Zoom calls are an option, but face-to-face interaction is meaningful.

One of my friends recently collapsed and was taken to the hospital. She was kept overnight but her husband was unable to visit her due to the pandemic. I can’t imagine the fear she felt, let alone how helpless her husband must have felt when he could not be by her side going through something so scary. It’s understandable that hospitals need to be as safe as possible. But that was horrifying for them to live through. It’s unbearable when things are so out of control you cannot have your loved one by your side during an emergency.

I am not trying to depress you or make you feel more anxious. What I want to do, just like Chris Cuomo, is to talk about the elephant in the room. If you are concerned with how someone is coping during this crisis, check in on them. Ask how they are coping. What are they doing to get through this? Offer your help. If they are not eating, drinking, or seem hopeless and helpless, ask them if they are thinking about suicide. You will not be putting the idea in their mind. Instead, by asking, you may be the lifeline that they need. Do not worry about not wanting to get involved. Imagine how you would feel if you learned someone died by suicide and you didn’t intervene soon enough.

What can you do?

  • Be open to talking about mental health issues. If you are not comfortable doing this, please call a crisis line, talk to a friend, or find someone who shares your concerns.
  • Reach out to their family or friends to share your concerns. This might be a pastor, coworker, boss, teacher, etc.
  • Call 911 if you are concerned that someone has made an attempt. Getting them help ASAP is crucial.

I made a mistake at the age of 18 of not knowing what to do when a severely depressed college friend took drugs to sleep for a couple of days. It never dawned on me to call my parents, talk to our resident assistant, or contact his family. There wasn’t a suicide hotline 25 years ago. Thankfully, this friend survived and has lived a happy life. I don’t know how I would have gotten over it if he had died. That would be something I would have carried with me for the rest of my life. Do not let that happen to you. Tell someone if you have concerns. Do not get caught up in promises to not tell anyone—a life could be lost that way.

If you are having suicidial thoughts or ideation, or are experiencing depression, anxiety, or other if you have other mental health concerns, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's national hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or visit samhsa.gov. The hotline is a treatment referral and information service that is operated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is free of charge.

Email me at diana2@discussdirectives.com to share your thoughts on this topic. Suicide is a nightmare. Do not be afraid to ask the question, “Are you thinking of killing yourself.”