Mental health awareness has become a much more normalized issue post covid considering most of the population experienced first-hand effects of a quarantined nation attempting to continue the course of academics and professional life. This concluded in young adults, especially, experiencing burnout and fatigue due to the added stress of the covid health crisis. In a study done by the Weill Institute for Neurosciences, the UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences released an article titled “Emotional Well-Being and Coping During Covid-19.” Some of the tips included were: to stay physically safe from Covid – do your part to limit the spread of the virus and get the vaccine, limit your media exposure to ensure less anxiety – information is knowledge however an overload of updates about the health crisis can be panic-inducing, and create new routines – focus on practicing healthy habits and your growth while we patiently wait for the rest of the population to get their vaccinations so that the country can truly go back to a safe environment for everyone.

An important piece of advice that stood out to me from their article was that “social distancing” is a misnomer that inherently radiates a negative connotation. We should be preaching the practice of “physical distancing” because through today’s technological innovation we can easily check in on our loved ones without being physically there – via voice call, facetime call, social media, etc. which have connected people at a distance for years. We must be kind to each other and most importantly ourselves, during Covid people began to bring their workspace to their homes, creating work-life balance issues for many families. Not only are young adults expected to continue their studies but also be able to function in their day-to-day lives while bearing the weight of invisible losses such as survivor guilt, secondary trauma, and simply surviving the Covid crisis. For almost everyone during the pandemic, there is an overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness. Most people are not aware of this, but we are impacted by what we bear witness to, also known as second-hand trauma. Humans are an extremely emotionally impacted species; we internalize our surroundings which made the lockdown an especially difficult situation.

The stigmas of Covid-19 include ambiguity – there are many unknown factors and people fear uncertainty as well as the natural human tendency to associate fear with blame, or in other words blaming others for Covid spreading. We must reframe our thinking to be able to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we are wearing face masks to protect not only ourselves but also others from the spread – everyone must do their part. This is a controversial statement today, unfortunately, which is utterly mind-boggling to me because masks are not a big ask from the public during a health crisis. The younger generation from my point of view seemingly accepted the new norm of wearing a mask; however, the older generations have been more resistant to masks. This was an interesting reaction considering at the beginning of the pandemic their age group was being targeted by the virus due to their more susceptible immune system.

As a young adult part of the younger generation that believes masks’ purpose is to keep us safe from the fatal virus circulating the world, the older generation’s utter disregard for other people’s lives than their own has brought upon a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress for the future that I had not realized was so prevalent before lockdown. Never mind the Covid stress, our planet has been dying due to the everlasting effects of human ignorance including fracking, greenhouse gas emissions, and the ocean filling with our unrecyclable trash to name a few. The older generations have continuously proven their lack of consideration for the future generations; therefore, giving the young adults of today the grand burden of anxiety for our survival and overall future – especially after experiencing a plague.

A Personal Account of Growing Up with Mental Health Issues

I always knew there was something different about the way I thought, especially as a child I would constantly be maladaptive daydreaming to avoid reality. At the time, I did not understand that this was a coping mechanism to escape from the other issues I was facing. My parents were raised during a different time when mental illness was viewed as a weakness. Thankfully over time, they became more educated about how big of an impact our mental stability has on our overall well-being. As a result, they investigated getting me a therapist and psychiatrist at 14 years old.

At the time, I was deeply set in the belief that being mentally ill was “not normal” and as a teen dealing with body image issues and social anxiety, the last thing I wanted was to be different. However, I did not realize how badly I needed help until I began therapy, and all the feelings, I shoved under the rug were validated, rather than told I was too sensitive or weak. Despite how helpful it was to talk about my feelings, my brain felt like it could not stop, and my intrusive thoughts ran rampant. This made it difficult to stay present and I eventually developed a dissociative disorder due to my disconnection from reality; it felt like everything was closing in on me at once. Unfortunately, this made it very difficult to do daily tasks and take care of myself never mind remembering to keep track of my medications, their dosages, when and if I took them.

Honestly, high school feels like a distant blur because of the lack of communication between my psychiatrist and me about how the medications were supposed to be helping me. My parents tried to help me understand what each medication meant and why it would help but, the strongest feeling I recall is numbness. I know my parents did the best they could, but I just did not have the words nor the clarity to articulate how I was feeling. It just all felt like hopelessness – as if I was broken, unfixable. I remember being in and out of the psychiatrist’s office with the same dull expression on my face and feeling no different than the week before.

Due to the seemingly inescapable numb feeling from the medications, I, unfortunately, used substance abuse as a crutch for my eating disorder and simply to feel something again. During the summer leading into my first year of college, I quit vaping and stopped taking the SSRIs to see what it was like to not use medications/substance abuse as a crutch for my mental illness. I found out quite quickly that my anxiety is strongly driven by academic achievement and as a result threw myself into my studies. I soon realized that I did not know what I wanted to do in the future in the slightest, this sent me into a self-identity crisis right as I was sent home to lockdown with my family. We were all going through some form of internal struggles during the pandemic but, thankfully our family found a way to support each other through life’s obstacles. 

Mental Health Awareness Becoming More Important Post COVID

During the lockdown, we were forced to face ourselves, who we have become, and the obstacles that we have pushed aside for far too long. Most people, including myself, during the pandemic, experience burnout, when their brain cannot keep up with their current diet, workload, or relationships, and a change needs to be made. Mental health is overall more universally accepted in our professional, educational, and social environment due to the lockdown allowing people to educate themselves about psychological disorders, and some, unfortunately, experienced mental illness firsthand.

Mental health awareness activism reached an all-time high during the past two years and is finally being recognized as a significant concern, where there is not a “one cure fits all” solution. We reexamined what matters to us during our time in lockdown, some people broke out of toxic relationships, others stopped being the first to reach out and found out who were the real friends they could count on. I learned that nourishing your mind is just as important as nourishing your body; food is to fuel as therapy is to mental clarity. 

Now that I accept that I am my mental illness and therefore should stop fighting it and rather treat it. I am glad to say that I accept that it does take a few extra steps to do daily tasks and feel okay but that is the weight I bear – everyone has their issues, there is no way around them except to accept all parts of yourself and keep going. Mental health awareness is now a universally known part of life that must not be neglected. Now that things are going back to normal after lockdown, we need to remember how it humbled us and what it taught us about the normalization of mental illness because there is no “normal.”

The Emotional Toll COVID Brought Upon Young Adults & Their Family Dynamics

Many young adults had to move back in with their families after having complete freedom at college/graduate school because they lost their job due to the pandemic and therefore put a pause on their hopes and dreams for the future. As a result of this, an outstanding number of young adults developed depression and/or anxiety during the lockdown. Throughout the pandemic, I did a lot of self-reflection, which led me down a depressive path because I kept spiraling into thinking about every problem going on all at once. I felt hopeless and anxious about the future, from the constantly ignored global climate crisis to my major and what I want to do with my degree once I graduate. At the time, I was an Architecture major studying in Washington, D.C. but now here I am, post-pandemic studying Computer Science in Rhode Island. The main takeaway I have from my journey of mental health and self-reflection is that you cannot control the future because all that is certain is the current moment. 

Personally, being forced to lockdown at home after my first year at college was a tough transition. Not only because I was struggling with my mental health but also because I could not see my friends nor have the same amount of freedom I just gotten used to. I know many other young adults feel this way because your parents always want to see you like a piece of them, however, at a point they must let go and let you just be you. It took a while to get to the point I am at in my relationship with my parents, but I am overjoyed that with the aid of therapy we have been able to work on setting boundaries, respecting one another, and ultimately being sympathetic to what others are going through

If you are hurting, it is more than okay to reach out for help – do not suppress your thoughts but rather remain present and validate your feelings if necessary mental health support is always an option. I am currently attending therapy and receiving medication to aid my mental stability. It took me a long time to want to be a part of the solution but now I have finally accepted that it is okay that I have these issues because everyone is dealt a different deck. You never know what others are going through or have gone through, the only certainty I know in this life is that you should always continue to better yourself and be kind to others because it will be returned. 

The Need for Mental Health Resources is Becoming More & More Urgent

Mental health resources are becoming increasingly important as people begin to educate themselves about their struggles. I believe that everything in life is part of a spectrum therefore, everyone should be granted mental health resources. I truly cannot fathom why there are no government-funded mental health services for citizens of the United States in 2021. I believe that therapy can truly change your life for the better because I am a perfect example of a former “traditional” thinker when it came to mental health help but now that I have been going to therapy for the past five years I can confidently state that if you put in the work, you will see a difference in your outlook on life. 

Young adults cannot afford the monthly payments, copay fees, and medication expenses of today’s ever-escalating capitalist world. It is utterly disgusting that inflation occurs for not only daily appliances at the store but also the medications people need to live – that is in my opinion criminal. Young adults are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, never mind worrying about not being able to pay for their medication refill because they are getting paid minimum wage. 

Advice to Young People, Voice Your Health Concerns

  1. Young people can educate themselves about the vast range of mental disorders and why we must reform our instinctive thinking that neurotypical people are the default – there is no such thing, people are simply people who all deserve to be treated with decency and respect.
  2. People of all ages should educate themselves, however, it is difficult to introduce a new way of thinking to someone who has been immersed in a certain mindset their whole life. The younger generation must educate themselves to better understand our differences and become more sensitive to other people’s situations – no one lives the same experiences therefore it is our responsibility to simply be open-minded which in turn will allow society to strive rather than remain divided.
  3. If you are a person that navigates through mental illness in your daily life, then you are more likely to be perceptive to other people’s feelings considering you are aware that countless factors are influencing our everyday lives. It is the responsibility of the younger generation to embrace change and help guide positive social change. It can be difficult to find the motivation to continue to stay updated on the social reform movement, not only due to the obstacles mental illness brings but also the overwhelmingness of becoming educated and recognizing how many things in society need to change.
  4. You can maintain updated news about social reform by following educated, social media activists and reposting those posts to spread awareness – this is very broad because it depends on what you are passionate about changing.

Bridging the Communication Gap between healthcare providers and Young People

  1. Healthcare providers should be able to reach their patients within a matter of minutes not days; especially when the current state of public health is in catastrophe. With Patient Orator™ a message that is specifically tailored to the client’s profile setting is sent directly to their phone, easily and efficiently.
  2. Healthcare providers are people that the average person does not generally deal with daily, therefore making the language barrier hard to navigate. The Patient Orator™ solution allows the individual to receive a customized message to reduce doctor-patient confusion.
  3. The names of medications may be difficult to pronounce or remember after speaking with your doctor so to make medication management post-discharge more feasible Patient Orator™ becomes the solution powering the interaction by providing the doctor’s appointment notes available via their app – concluding in less stress post-discharge considering they have a simplified version of the doctor jargon readily available on their mobile device.
  4. Communication is essential among healthcare professionals and their patients; Patient Orator™ uses technology that the younger generation is familiar with to communicate with them easier and allow them to truly understand what medications they are taking so their follow-up appointments are less stressful.

National Suicide Prevention Line

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide—whether you are in crisis or not—call or live chat the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Additional Behavioral Health Resources

The Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator is a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance use/addiction and/or mental health problems. https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov

References

Altiraifi, A., & Rapfogel, N. (2020, September 10). Mental health care was Severely Inequitable, then came The Coronavirus Crisis. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/disability/reports/2020/09/10/490221/mental-health-care-severely-inequitable-came-coronavirus-crisis/.

Fernandez, M. E. (2021, March 5). COVID-19 mental health crisis is hitting young adults. American Heart Association News. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2021/03/05/covid-19-mental-health-crisis-is-hitting-young-adults.

Rodriguez, T. (2021, April 30). Impact of the covid-19 pandemic on adolescent mental health. Psychiatry Advisor. https://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/home/topics/child-adolescent-psychiatry/adolescent-mental-health-issues-are-further-exacerbated-by-the-covid-19-pandemic/.

(2020, October 30). Emotional well-being and coping during covid-19. UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. https://psychiatry.ucsf.edu/copingresources/covid19#h

Published by Maeve Kenny

Maeve Kenny is a technical support intern at Patient Orator & STEM Student at Roger Williams University studying Computer Science with a specialization in Data Science and Mathematics. Maeve writes regularly for Patient Orator on matters of human-centered design other healthcare-related topics.

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