The year 2020 is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Between uncontrollable wildfires in Australia to a near-war between the US and Iran, the global COVID-19 panic to the fervorous movement for police reform and justice for Black lives, and both the pending economic collapse and US presidential election, our worlds have experienced upheaval, our bodies have been on the front lines, and everything we once believed to be normal is now but a memory.
And through the process, our mental health feels the impact.
What will the future look like? We can’t know or predict, but we can start to puzzle out the pieces which will impact how we think about, discuss, and experience our mental health now and into the foreseeable future.
Note: Whatever your experience is right now with your mental health — it’s valid. We’ve entered an unsteady and unknowable present, without the tools to make sense of the future. It’s scary. It’s daunting. But naming these things can help begin the process of healing.
Here are 20 things to think about when it comes to mental health and the year 2020.
- We’ve yet to understand the reality of a global pandemic on our collective mental health. How do we grapple with the sudden loss of hundreds of thousands of lives within a few moments? Where do the lines between grief and depression lie, if there are any lines between them at all?
- Scientists are just beginning to see long-term effects of COVID-19 on the physical body, but there has yet to be research on the long-term psychological impact. Being sick for weeks or months, be it at home or in a medical facility, may wreak havoc on the brain.
- Mental illness changes. It’s possible your knowledge of your own mental health has shifted during the crisis. Perhaps what has always been a low current of anxiety in your day-to-day has disappeared completely, or perhaps that same anxiety has manifested instead as obsessive or compulsive tendencies never experienced previously.
- The psychological burden on healthcare workers is real, and members of this field have died by suicide, including Lorna M. Breen and John Mondello. The brightest and most equipped for healing others are facing untold mental fatigue and distress they cannot handle.
- Job loss and extended unemployment will lead those who aren’t working to face mental health challenges. Without social safety nets, the onus is on the individual to figure out a plan without access to tools and support to help them function on a basic level.
- Sensationalizing and reporting on suicide can lead to an increase in suicide. This is known as the contagion effect. But what happens when we don’t speak of it at all? When we don’t acknowledge the pain, the fear, the anxiety?
- Social distancing saves lives, but the phrase itself — and the implications of abstaining from contact with other human beings — leaves humans touch-starved, isolated, and hurting.
- Wearing masks matters, too. Yet hiding one’s face takes away the ability to read facial cues, creates a barrier allowing humans to be cruel toward one another, and can only further create challenging barriers between social creatures like humans.
- What is it to mourn loss without ritual to celebrate or honor a loved one? How does one cope with the fact Disney World can be open for business but a family can’t have a memorial to honor the death of a loved one?
- Drinking has always been popular in the world of memes, but amid the trauma of a global pandemic, even the cutest alcohol-related memes on social media feel less funny. Instead, they point to our collective addiction to escape — be it via booze or scrolling to the next video/image/tweet.
- There has been no funding to bolster mental health services in America.
- There has been no discussion about the mental health crisis in America, period.
- It is the same communities bearing the brunt of COVID-19 and police brutality that will continue to face the hardest mental health hurdles. A steep decline of local mental health services — if these communities had such resources to begin with — inevitably hits the most in need first: the houseless, Black and Brown Americans, those with disabilities.
- Research published in February of 2020 highlighted the surge in mental health challenges in young people. What will the mental well-being of our next generation of innovators, leaders, and healthcare workers look like when faced with a world unable to support them?
- The human stress cycle leads to insomnia, and insomnia is one of the greatest influences on our mental health. We are a sleep-deprived, touch-deprived, isolated, aching community.
- We are not all “in this together.” The systemic inequalities prior to the pandemic have been magnified. Rather, we are all in the same sea but with different boats.
- Reality right now is a war of words on “both sides.” But these “both sides” are simply doing what those with real power and capacity for change desire: bickering with one another, rather than insisting on change from the leadership with actual resources to provide for that change.
- Your neighbor is not your enemy. Your neighbor is your ally.
- We can — we should — lean on one another where we can. Stand up for those who need support right now, be it on the front lines of medical facilities, the checkout lines at essential businesses, in protest lines rallying for justice for Black and Brown bodies, disabled bodies, the bodies of those identifying outside of the cis and hetero social norms.
- Perhaps the thing we need most right now is the thing that’s hardest to say: this hurts. This sucks. If we can acknowledge and name the thing, this pain and anguish, perhaps we can build those bridges between us and those we desperately want to hold.
Giving ourselves space for grief and depression to exist — and allowing ourselves time, compassion, and grace to sit with these feelings in our bodies and minds — might be where we can start the healing process. When we make that space for ourselves to process, there’s no way to not also extend that same compassion toward others doing the same.
This trauma will be long-lasting. Our mental health will forever be colored by the impact of this pandemic.
The most important thing we can do is let ourselves feel what it is we need to feel. Only then can we begin to construct a path forward that makes sense to each of us individually.
Kelly Jensen is an editor of books for young adults including BODY TALK: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy (August 18), the award-winning (Don’t) Call Me Crazy: 33 Voices Start The Conversation About Mental Health, and Here We Are: Feminism For The Real World. She works full-time as an editor for Book Riot, and in her free time, she teaches yoga. She’s a former librarian and life-long lover of books and reading.
We know this season is hard for so many. To help you navigate caring for yourself, TWLOHA created the Fear Won’t Win page. It’s a collection of self-care tools, mental health resources, and activities to remind you that hope remains.
For BIPOC mental health resources, go here.
To locate free or reduced-cost services in your area, we invite you to use our FIND HELP Tool.