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It’s no secret the pandemic has affected our lives in many capacities — from the way we work and how we dress to our interactions with others. But perhaps one of the most significant impacts is the documented rise in people experiencing mental health struggles. We spoke to a few experts to better understand this spike in numbers and why we should be paying attention to our psychological and emotional well-being more than ever before.

According to author and keynote speaker Heather McGowan, the rise in mental health-related issues is a result of a myriad of things — loss of disposable income, countless days of virtual work or learning while simultaneously trying to balance a full-time job, the constant fear of getting sick, and so much more. In fact, according to a study by the Boston University School of Public Health, depression symptoms have increased three-fold since the beginning of the pandemic. However, it’s important to remember that despite a wide variety of hardships and vantage points during the pandemic, we’ve all been experiencing this situation together.

“We are in the same storm, but we are in different boats,” explains Heather.

Woman sitting alone overlooking mountain range

While everyone’s experience throughout the pandemic has been unique, it’s important to remember that we’ve all weathered a similar storm, despite our different circumstances.

As more members of our communities experience mental health concerns, it’s no surprise that more people are also seeking professional help. According to an American Psychological Association study, the demand for professional help is so substantial that it’s being referred to as a “mental health tsunami” — with around 41% of psychologists reporting that they were unable to meet the demand for assistance in 2021.

“We’re seeing now that, unfortunately, there is a wait time to get in with certain mental health professionals,” explains Cindy Jones, Director of the Psychiatric Intake Response Center (PIRC) at Children’s of Alabama. “If I’m a parent and ready for my child to seek professional help, I may not get an appointment this week or even next week; we may have to wait. That’s been the hardest thing for many families, parents, and caregivers to understand — there is a backlog of people waiting for appointments.”

Despite this rising demand, it’s important to know that help remains available. The American Psychological Association offers an extensive list of crisis hotlines people can reach out to for free, confidential support. There has also been an increase in the popularity of online therapy options like BetterHelp and Talkspace — services like these match you with professionals and offer a variety of options from phone and video sessions to text and email access throughout the week.

Cindy also notes that when someone recognizes the potential need for assistance with their mental health, the best first step is to tell a loved one. “A lot of people have fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. But never be afraid to take that first step, whether a phone call or talking to someone in person,” she explains. “It’s a very lonely feeling to need help and not know where to go … Having at least one other person there to help you through it will lighten the load a little bit.”

Women holding hands

If you or someone you know recognizes a need for professional mental health assistance, the best way to kickstart the process is to reach out to a loved one and create a support system.

Other treatment options more people are utilizing are workshops and retreats. One example of a business offering those services is Onsite, which has locations in both Tennessee and California. Hannah Warren, Onsite’s Marketing Director, says they have seen a rise in people using their services since the pandemic started. “Despite the increased concern for personal safety amidst a global pandemic, the need for emotional and mental health assistance continues to outweigh that concern,” she tells us. “For over 40 years, we’ve walked alongside tens of thousands of people in our workshops, therapeutic intensives, and residential treatment center, and now, thanks to advancements in technology, people can access the same expertise and tools used at Onsite in the comfort of their homes.” Hannah adds that these efforts have empowered people to build empathy, self-awareness, resilience, and compassion into their daily lives.

Whether you are working remotely or back in the office full-time, the importance of mental wellness in the workplace can’t be overstated. A study done by Harvard Business Review found that 76% of respondents reported having at least one symptom of a mental health condition in 2020. Heather says employers should care for their employees’ mental health in the same way they often care for physical wellness. In fact, she predicts mental health and burnout will be the primary focus for organizations going forward. “The good mental health of your team is essential for your team’s success. As a result, mental health benefits are not something you give up but rather something you invest in,” she suggests.

She also adds that employees can also take steps to better their mental wellness in the workplace. “Once encouraged by your employer or supervisor to pay attention to your mental health, including burnout, you should be encouraged to cap your workday, avoid work on weekends or other periods of time off, and seek balance from recreation, exercise, or family and friend time,” says Heather.

Coworkers smiling during meeting

“Employees experiencing mental health challenges should be as respected with space, time, and treatment as employees experiencing other health challenges,” says Heather of the importance of mental wellness in the workplace.

As more people seek help with their mental wellness, the once-taboo topic is becoming easier to talk about and less stigmatized. “Older generations are now more aware of mental health concerns and see it more often reflected in popular culture or society in general,” says Cindy. “There is so much more awareness about mental health services and mental health issues and concerns that people have seen the benefit of getting help.”

Similarly, as more people openly discuss mental health and seek help, many misconceptions are being debunked, including the idea that you have to wait for something life-altering to seek help. Instead, you should maintain your mental health in the same way you care for your physical wellness. “Just like eating healthy or working out, mental health and wellness can be a part of — and should be — preventative care,” says Hannah. “We don’t have to wait for a crisis to hit to ask for help. We don’t have to be burned out and overwhelmed to prioritize our needs. Many of us carry around the belief that investing in our emotional health is ‘selfish,’ but it is one of the most selfless things you can do.”

By paying attention to your psychological and emotional needs, you can begin your journey to leading a happier, healthier life. The best first step anyone experiencing a mental health-related issue can take is to reach out to a loved one or trusted individual. Many states also list resources on their official websites, and online resources are available as well, such as Crisis Text Line, NAMI, and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Individuals can also reach out to their primary care doctors to discuss concerns surrounding mental health — these physicians are able to offer prescriptions and recommend next steps.

Here’s to raising awareness and creating a healthier, happier community!

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For more discussion on mental and emotional wellness, check out our other recent articles — 5 Steps to Combat Burnout and Go From Surviving to Thriving; Say This (and NOT This) to Friends Who Are Struggling

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