With almost 160 million Americans fully or partially vaccinated for COVID-19, and other countries working to vaccinate their own populations, hope is in the air.
But moving on from the pandemic may not be as simple as we think. After all, much of the stress, anxiety and other issues related to our mental well-being that we’ve experienced over the past 15 months won’t just disappear along with our risk of COVID-19. Easing back into life outside our homes can produce its own stress and anxiety. So, of course, can grief for those we’ve lost, whether that’s for someone we knew personally or for the more than 4 million people worldwide who have lost their lives to the virus. And so can a variety of other well-documented effects of the pandemic on our mental health, from weight gain to increased alcohol consumption to trouble sleeping to the changing nature of work and parenting and more.
For those already living with mental illness, these and other stressors can exacerbate an already-difficult situation. They can, as well, for the 46% of Gen Z adults, 33% of Gen Xers, 31% of millennials, 28% of baby boomers and 9% of older adults who, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), say their mental well-being has deteriorated during the pandemic.
In fact, last October, eight months into the pandemic, the APA warned of the ongoing effects of the pandemic on our mental health — even going as far as to suggest we may experience a “second pandemic” centered around it. As a result of a February 2021 survey conducted by The Harris Poll that underscored the ongoing mental health challenges people face, the APA now says its prediction may be “coming to fruition.” Dr. Anthony Fauci recently referred to the pandemic’s “long-term ravages.”
Given all this, it is more critical than ever to build what’s known as mental health resilience. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, mental health resilience is “the process of finding healthy ways to adapt and cope with adversity and distress. Building resilience can help protect us from various mental health symptoms, such as depression, anxiety and traumatic stress. And it can help those of us who already have mental health conditions cope better.”
There has never been a better time for those of us who consider ourselves health innovators and communicators to ensure that the health care companies we work with are part of the solution.
At Real Chemistry, a variety of our clients understand this urgency, including Otsuka, known for its work across neuroscience, nephrology, oncology and more. Its recent video series addressed the concept of mental resiliency head on; especially relevant as we emerge from the pandemic only to find ourselves staring down another. As Otsuka’s VP of patient advocacy and stakeholder management, Mary Michael, previously told MM+M, “You hear from the experts that the mental health burden of COVID-19 could surpass the physical part of it .… We’ll try to support as many people as possible and help build that mental resiliency.”
Another interesting and relevant aspect of Otsuka’s work is its acknowledgement that mental health doesn’t exist in a silo, but impacts and is impacted by other medical conditions and personal situations. Its videos focus on the connection between mental health and COVID-19, of course, but also dementia patients, those with chronic diseases — even caregivers. In other words, we can’t treat these and other diseases without also addressing the mental health issues that accompany them. Seen through this lens, the need for mental health resiliency becomes much clearer. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As the U.S. and other countries finally begin to emerge from the pandemic, while others still struggle to contain its devastating spread, it is a timely reminder of the close connection between COVID-19 and mental well-being. Taking a holistic approach to addressing both is the only way we can someday hope to achieve a pandemic-free future.