We Must Start Talking About the Invisible Mental Health Pandemic

Ultimately and tragically, it’s this invisible infection silently mutating within millions of homes, classrooms and offices that will have the most far-reaching, lasting consequences for many families who were spared losses from the coronavirus itself.

In a mental health pandemic, upsetting feelings are widely suppressing potentially uplifting emotions across the population. The expression of upsetting emotions results frequently in pushing others away, causing cycles of isolation, increasing despair, loneliness, and loss, and ultimately leading to implosion or explosion.

With FDA’s emergency approval of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines that Alexandra Sifferlin wrote about Friday, we should be at the beginning of the end of COVID-19, shifting to the meaning-finding perspective Andy Slavitt encourages.

Hopefully, these important medical achievements will allow us to the start focusing on the mental health pandemic for which there’s no vaccine in the works and no apparent national strategy from either the outgoing or incoming Administrations.

Ultimately and tragically, it’s this invisible infection silently mutating within millions of homes, classrooms and offices that will have the most far-reaching, lasting consequences for many families who were spared losses from the coronavirus itself.

Healthcare disparities that left large groups of minorities and low-income communities at increased risk for coronavirus infection are even more alarming when it comes to the protecting the most vulnerable from the mental health pandemic.

High-quality, patient-centered mental health services are often entirely inaccessible within low-income communities. Consumers pursuing limited community services often face long delays and must overcome significant barriers to participate, leaving vast segments of the population without timely access to care for which delays can be tragically consequential.

Many people experiencing the most severe symptoms do not yet recognize their experiences as being connected to a global pandemic that is also afflicting millions of others.

At the same time, there’s been no national effort to widely communicate the signs, symptoms and consequences of this mental health pandemic. Many people experiencing the most severe symptoms do not yet recognize their experiences as being connected to a global pandemic that is also afflicting millions of others.

America paid an enormous price for not rapidly responding to early indications from China and other countries to act more swiftly implementing protections against the spread of COVID-19. Local, state and federal policy-makers as well as the media are doing the same by giving little attention to early information from other countries about the mental health pandemic.

Recent studies from Germany, Ireland, Israel and elsewhere reveal findings that should widely inform policy-making and national educational efforts.

An Irish study reported: “COVID-19 is associated with a significant mental health burden both in the acute phase and the long-term from people who are exposed to the virus and those not directly exposed … the psychological impact of being in a pandemic is wide-ranging, significant, and long-lasting, requiring effective and accessible psychological support be put in place as early as possible.”

A German study highlighted: “The findings for interpersonal violence are alarming.”

An Italian study found: “… having an acquaintance infected was associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety.”

Multiple studies addressed the mental health consequences of quarantine and found high rates of:

  • psychological distress,
  • emotional disturbance,
  • depression,
  • stress,
  • low mood with irritability and insomnia,
  • post-traumatic stress symptoms,
  • anger,
  • emotional exhaustion

A Tel Aviv study reports a third of Israelis have high anxiety and one in five has high levels of depression.

“The pandemic is plunging huge numbers of Israelis into depression and anxiety, a recent major study has found, revealing that young adults are surprisingly taking the biggest hit,” The Times of Israel reports.

The Israeli study found health concerns were a relatively small source of the pressure people are feeling. “Just 5% of the 804-strong sample think health represents the biggest threat, while 30% feel it is political instability and 20% think it is finances.”

Unless America is prepared to deploy effective, experienced mental health professionals to millions of households, the best response to the mental health pandemic is to train people to help themselves.

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs review found that skills training that targets strengthening communication, emotional understanding and connection, and conflict resolution was effective helping veteran families relieve the impact of stress, anxiety and trauma.

Implementing approaches that improve the emotional health of millions of Americans affected by the pandemic will help them overcome the consequences of COVID-19 and leave them better prepared for future mental health challenges too.

Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of Purpose Built Families Foundation and Co-Founder of the Operation Sacred Trust program for ending Veteran homelessness.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store