How the Pandemic has Tested Mental Health: The Growing & Urgent Importance of Emotional Health, Wellbeing, & Searching for Meaning

mental health wellbeing

None of us saw this coming. We started 2020 with excitement, hopes, and goals for a new year and the milestone onset of a whole new decade. The coronavirus was certainly a newsworthy topic, but we felt safe, knowing it was much too far to touch our lives in any way—much less pose a threat to our safety. As positive cases and casualty numbers grew exponentially around the world, the second and third month of the year rolled around, and many of us began feeling that unsettling sensation that maybe we should be more concerned than we’ve been about this highly contagious virus. Then suddenly, by early March, our lives changed abruptly and in ways we thought we would only ever see in a movie. As masks, gloves, sanitizing, disinfecting, and 6-feet apart rules have become the norm, our daily lives feel increasingly surreal.

By now, many of us have adjusted because, the reality is, what other option do we have? Gratitude keeps us grounded, as we try to remind ourselves every day that our health and safety, and that of our loved ones and society at large, is more important than not being able to eat at a restaurant or get a haircut. However, not everyone transitions into a smooth emotional adjustment to the pandemic and the changes it has imposed (or more like forced) on us in the same manner. For many people, job losses, financial strain, the closing of businesses, and being confined to staying at home has taken a huge emotional toll. Depression, anxiety, and fear are certainly growing. This poses a great danger to many individuals, families, and communities.

Now more than ever, people are in dire need of mental health services. Those who are fortunate to have coverage for therapy or can pay out-of-pocket costs have an invaluable resource, and an outlet for the emotional struggles that are commonplace during these uncertain times. For those who do not have access to therapy, it is critical to seek out support—whether it’s through community or religious groups who adhere to social distancing guidelines or the many online forums and blogs where people can connect and offer help to one another. We can remain physically distant, but staying emotionally connected is critical to the current state of our emotional health and wellbeing.

It is critical to search for meaning and sources of learning and growth in the midst of the changes and struggles you may be currently experiencing. When you can find this meaning—this sense of purpose in your struggles—you will build resilience, the ultimate antibody against emotional problems and struggles. As you develop resilience, you will progress and grow from this pandemic despite the losses that have accompanied it.

You will become courageous and strong when you can appreciate the hidden gifts and opportunities for learning during these tough times.

It’s certainly not an easy task—to challenge yourself in this way, to go against the negative and fear-filled direction your mind may sometimes want to take you. But remember, gradual progress towards self-development leads to lasting change. Practice searching for one small positive outcome from staying at home, from being isolated, from looking around you and seeing masked people avoiding eye contact, even from being jobless. Many people are finding that their health and safety, and that of their loved ones, are paramount right now and are the only things that really matter. Find your own source of meaning, build and strengthen your resilience, and you will soon find the outcomes and opportunities that will result from these challenging times.

Arnold Gillo, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Therapist, a Behavioral Health Consultant, and the Clinical Program Planner for State of Nevada ICF Program