The swiftness of COVID-19’s impact has caused us to face mental health in ways we never anticipated. Suddenly, we have been forced to deal with the unexpected demands of sharing work, living and learning space while trying to protect our loved ones from an invisible threat.

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Many are dealing with the fear and uncertainty of lost income. Most people have realized that mental health also needs attention to keep our households running or at least sputtering.

Cut off from our usual ways of connecting with friends and coworkers, we have turned to technology to maintain crucial connections that give us the resiliency to cope with the grief, loneliness, and stress.

Our collective pandemic experience has made it more socially acceptable to talk openly about stress, coping and mental health. The language of self-care and social-emotional awareness has become common in social media posts and news articles.

We need to build on this momentum and continue the conversation to ensure that mental health is considered in all our personal, organizational and policy decisions.

One in five of us experiences mental health conditions during a lifetime, and depression is the number one cause of workplace disability worldwide. COVID-19 has only made the crisis more pointed.

Flickr: Alachua County

May is Mental Health Month and our organizations are partnering to fight stigma, inspire others and promote the message that everyone faces challenges that can impact their mental health. If we can integrate this message into our efforts to get through and recover from the pandemic, we can emerge stronger and healthier as a community.

One of the common misperceptions about mental health is that people living with mental health conditions are dangerous and beyond help. We stigmatize mental illness with whispers, NIMBYism and avoidance.

In reality, mental health conditions are extremely common. One in five of us experiences one during a lifetime and depression is the number one cause of workplace disability worldwide.

Most importantly, mental health conditions can be treated. Recovery is not only possible but should always be the goal. In our community, everyone matters. Each person deserves a chance for treatment and care so that illness is not a barrier to personal goals and dreams.

As with many health conditions, early detection and treatment of mental illness offer the best results. Access to mental health care for individuals in our state must improve. Mental health services have never been more critical to the maintenance of public health and the demand is expected to increase with the intense strain of job loss, homelessness and the uncertainty of COVID-19’s long-term impact on our economy.

Improve Access To Care

The New England Journal of Medicine reported in April that extensive emotional distress is expected to be found in populations affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These populations include health care workers, people already experiencing a mental health condition and those traumatized by COVID-19 infection, family circumstances, isolation and economic hardship.

Any business gains will be overwhelmed by health care costs if the risk of substance abuse, depression, suicide and other mental health disorders are not addressed. Our health care workforce has already stepped up to shoulder the burden of dealing with the pandemic and we must prioritize their support and safety.

Improved access to mental health care requires work from different angles and sectors including workforce development, further integration of care and increased funding, to name a few.

But most of all, it demands the proverbial paradigm shift for which we now have the prime opportunity. Individual attitudes of acceptance toward mental health and an ongoing commitment to fighting stigma must lead to a collective demand for change.

In reality, mental health conditions are extremely common.

All of us have a role and responsibility toward the mental health of our community, from encouraging individuals to speak freely about their mental health care to support of elected leaders who vote for policies that expand and improve it.

As we honor Mental Health Month and embark on the road ahead, we invite you to take care of yourself and others by working on meaningful connections and supporting those who are struggling.

As we learn to live in the changed environment brought by COVID-19, we can eliminate mental health stigma by talking openly and find greater community connection in knowing that each of us is not alone.

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About the Authors

  • Claudia Crist
    Claudia Crist is the chief executive officer of Sutter Health Kahi Mohala, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life and restoring hope for individuals and families affected by mental illness. She has a passion for promoting public health and healthcare through partnership, innovation, leadership excellence and aloha.
  • Bryan Talisayan
    Bryan Talisayan serves as the executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, which promotes mental wellness through education, advocacy, and service. Born and raised on Oahu, he spent 25 years of his career in executive roles at Oahu’s Federally Qualified Community Health Centers.
  • Kumi Macdonald
    Kumi Macdonald, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Hawaii, also serves as a volunteer family supporter and advocate, sharing her story and instilling hope in others towards recovery. Macdonald lives successfully in recovery from depression and has family members with mental health conditions.