Disruptive. Topsy Turvey. Unprecedented. These have been the go-to adjectives in this era of COVID-19. Nary a Zoom meeting, conversation, or webinar this week escaped reference to challenges of our time.
Amidst it all, mental health concerns have been front and center. Here are my go-to qualifiers about mental health during COVID-19 and beyond.
It’s Global. Wednesday morning, I had the opportunity to conduct a workshop for members of the Columbia Global Centers located in Amman, Beijing, Istanbul, Mumbai, Nairobi, Paris, Rio, Santiago, and Tunis. Without exception, people are reporting elevated stress, anxiety, and more serious mental health conditions due to the current pandemic. Consider, for example, studies from China, India, the UK, and the USA that consistently report elevated mental health concerns due to COVID-19.
It’s Not New. We know that mental health issues are not new. Even before this pandemic, the WHO estimated that mental disorders impacted one in four people in the world. The unique stressors of COVID-19 have made mental health concerns even more common. It is also not new that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting marginalized communities. Black Americans are 2.4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to white Americans.
It’s not Inevitable. Newspapers are splashed with headlines about the next pandemic: a mental health crisis. I had the opportunity to co-host a conversation with Amy Kennedy, who is running for Congress, and former U.S. Surgeons General Dr. David Satcher and Dr. Vivek Murthy yesterday. These public leaders have the political will and scientific knowledge necessary to ensure that mental health needs of our communities are appropriately met and addressed. It’s not about funding; consider the current stimulus packages. As Dr. Satcher said, it’s about leaders and communities – locally and globally – who care enough, know enough, and have the courage to do enough to make mental health matter.
It’s Time. In fact, it’s long overdue. I had several discussions with leaders in private industry this week who are laser focused on mapping a successful recovery from COVID-19. It is widely understood that supporting employee mental health is essential. It’s exciting that corporate leaders are focused on mental health. It’s time for businesses to step up. It’s time for schools to step up. It’s time for communities to put mental health first. We know that good mental health is correlated with good overall health and happiness. We do what we measure. It’s time to measure how our civic organizations, educational institutions and workplaces are doing in terms supporting mental health.
It’s Up to Each of Us. One of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that people are talking about mental health more openly and more widely than ever before – from the Columbia Global Centers to global business leaders to public leaders around the world. As the virus winds its way through communities, it opens our eyes to the mental health needs of many. It’s up to each of us to do what we can, and then a little more, to address the current – and perennial – mental health issues that we can now see so clearly.
In Japanese the word for crisis is kiki (危機). It is made up of two parts – one which refers to danger (危) and the other that can be read as opportunity (機). Fight or flight are the standard options in the face of danger. When it comes to a possible mental health crisis, my hope is that we will choose to fight to keep the light on the current – and perennial – mental health needs of people and communities around the globe. Therein lies our opportunity. It’s enough already.