Tuesday, September 22, 2020 -
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Mental health, out of the shadows

While these days we might all be walking around masked, in a twist of irony and paradox, COVID has actually ripped the mask off of so many aspects of our lives.

Among many other important issues, COVID has shined a light on mental health and mental wellness.

Certainly, mental health has been at the forefront of society’s mind for quite a while. While mental health has expanded beyond the stereotype of outstanding movies such as “One Flew Over The Cukoos Nest” or “Ordinary People,” with their emphasis on extremes such as coping with being institutionalized or suicide, mental health is still somewhat of a stigma.

A discussion of mental health often resurfaces after monumental tragedies, such as shootings, in an effort to funnel government funds to mental health support, or to understand what would trigger such heinous crimes., that is, to illuminate the world of the psychopath or a sociopath.

Focusing on trauma such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) for veterans or sexual assault victims is also an essential part of the mental health discourse.

Meanwhile, behind closed doors, millions of people have been struggling with more ordinary, “regular” daily mental challenges: mild depression, anxiety, and other illnesses.

Perhaps they are not on the scale of dark demons, but stresses that prevent normal routine daily functioning.

Yet, in a mainstream kind of way, mental health and wellness flew under the radar.

It took a pandemic for the veneer to be ripped off.

Many people living blessed lives were blithely going about their lives when COVID struck. Suddenly, people who previously lived very optimal lives were on social lockdown. Suddenly, they had to cope with children at home all day while juggling working full time or, alternatively, grieving the loss of their jobs and coming to terms with unemployment. Suddenly, the elders in their families were in isolation, unable to be visited, connected with face-to-face, leaving their loved ones feeling somewhat helpless.

This disruption also served to disrupt a certain cluelessness that many people possessed, that was the prevailing norm in their lives.

Suddenly, a family blessed with neuro typical kids might have come to realize how much harder it is to cope with the pandemic with a special needs child, whose existence depends on routine and stimulating environments, now been ripped from beneath him or her.

Suddenly, a family blessed with health might have come to understand how much deeper the challenge in navigating the COVID is for a family stricken with illness.

Suddenly, a family blessed to be a family have come to realize the burden of loneliness of a single person or an elderly person, confined by the pandemic without any social interaction and human connectivity.

Many people who had become accustomed to coping with various challenges seemed to take COVID more in stride than people who, up to this point, did not have drastic challenges to cope with. Their apple cart, so to speak, was that much more turned on its head.

But just like that, without any speeches, fundraising dinners, TV programming or movies, coping with mental a challenge became somewhat mainstream and destigmatized, allowing for a level of heretofore unknown empathy to ripple out across communities.

Now the distinctions among groups somewhat dissolved. Now, everyone, or at least most people, in some form were getting a taste, a whiff, of what it means to struggle, to cope with this new, unexpected, more limited life that was foisted upon them. The pandemic posed a pause of sorts, causing many to think of others in less ideal circumstances, without judgment.

Thankfully, we are adaptive creatures. Adjustments were made. Many people have found a way to manage.

While the newly deepened awareness of others’ struggles was not caused by COVID, it was revealed by COVID.

It was laid bare.

Going forward, I can only hope that this awareness and empathy for others’ burden of mental struggles or other personal struggles; for people who, daily, wake up heavier and go to sleep doubly tired, will be one of the many COVID consequences of kindness that will have changed us as a community, as a society, for the better.

Copyright © 2020 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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