Last year, we were simply going about our lives, not expecting the world to change in such a massive way. Our generation has always been obsessed with the “Apocalypse”, with a new “end of the world” being announced every couple of years. We survived the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse, we survived countless meteorites or space rocks trying to kill us. And yet, we were wildly unprepared when the real tragedy hit. We thought we would be sequestered at home by merely two weeks, and two weeks became four, and four weeks became the whole year. As 2020 went on, it became increasingly clearer that we were living a historical event; an event that could change the course of history and human race. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything we knew to be true about the world, and about ourselves. As we enter the second half of the second year of the pandemic, let’s focus on another equally-important disease that’s spreading like wildfire: the decrease in our mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected many people’s mental health and further stressed and aggravated individuals already suffering from mental illness, eating disorders, and substance use disorders. One research shows that 4 out of every 10 adults report suffering from anxiety and depression disorder.
Ten Signs of Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress
As activists, the anxiety, despair, and feeling of powerlessness that come from constantly trying to fight an uncertain future are nothing new, and we’ve developed coping mechanisms to help us deal with this existential anguish. However, the pandemic and its consequences are added stressors in our lives, and our usual coping mechanisms might not be powerful enough to handle it all. Here are some signs of burnout and secondary traumatic stress to watch out for.
- Sadness, depression, or apathy.
- Becoming easily frustrated.
- Isolation from others.
- Poor hygiene.
- Feeling tired.
- Excessive worry or fear about getting the virus or giving it to other people.
- Nightmares or recurring thoughts about the situation.
- The feeling that others’ trauma is also your own.
- Anxiety about the ease of restrictions regarding the coronavirus.
Ways to Deal with Burnout and Secondary Traumatic Stress During the Coronavirus Pandemic
- Stay informed, but be aware of your limits. Be realistic about how much information you can take in without experiencing a decline in your mental health.
- Avoid embracing toxic lifestyle patterns during times of uncertainty. Be extra mindful about keeping healthy and sustainable sleeping and eating habits.
- Find a way to express your feelings freely and without judgement. Art, journaling or therapy might be good outlets.
- Get outdoors. Being forced to work or study from home is taking a toll in our ability to connect with nature, so going outside even for a few minutes a day can work wonders for our mental health.
- Get offline. Even if your work is largely digital, remember that it’s important and necessary to take breaks and spend time offline.
- Find support. Find a reliable support system, whether it is with friends, family or a therapist. Check out these online therapy options.
- Exercise. Beyond the dopamine boost, exercise can provide relief for our mental health in a variety of ways. By moving our body in a disciplined and consistent way, we strengthen our ability to deal with adversities and build up motivation for day to day activities.
- Take action. Taking action and helping others can make us feel less powerless and frustrated. There is energy in those negative emotions that arise during difficult times, and we can capture it, harness it, and redirect it into empowering, helpful actions.
The COVID-19 pandemic itself had already highlighted the systemic inequalities that communities of color suffer, but this resulting mental health crisis will place those communities at even higher vulnerability. To give you an idea of how deep the disparities run, check out these statistics:
- Non-Hispanic Black adults (48%) and Hispanic or Latino adults (46%) are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than Non-Hispanic White adults (41%). (KFF, 2021
- Black and Latino communities have limited access to prevention, treatment, and recovery services for substance use disorders. While they have similar rates of opioid misuse as the general population, in recent years Black adults have experienced the greatest increase in rate for overdose deaths from non methadone synthetic opioids. Also, Black and Latino adults with mental health issues or substance abuse disorders are more likely to be homeless or incarcerated, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to be infected with COVID. (SAHMSA, 2020)
Other vulnerable minorities, like women and those who belong to the LGBTQ+ communities, have also been disproportionately affected by the mental health crisis caused by COVID-19. Circumstances like loss of community support, home-schooling, unemployment, being employed in higher-risk industries, lack of physical contact, limited or no access to therapy, or being quarantined in hostile home’s environments, are all exacerbating their mental health needs:
- 47 percent of women reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder compared to 38 percent of men in December 2020. (KFF, 2021)
- Women with children are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than men with children (49% vs. 40%). (KFF, 2021)
- A larger share of LGBTQ+ adults compared to non-LGBT adults report that they or someone in their household has experienced COVID-era job loss (56% v. 44%), and three-fourths of LGBTQ+ people (74%) say worry and stress from the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health, compared to 49 percent of those who are not LGBT, and are more likely to say that negative impact has been major (49% v 23%). (KFF, 2021)
What can you do to help? We’ve compiled a list of resources you can use to help these affected communities manage their mental health problems:
- Stress management during quarantine for mental health providers serving Latino clients: Free training on how to help the Latino community with mental health concerns during the COVID-19. Specific consideration for youth also discussed. Training available here.
- Practical tools to strengthen your recovery during a crisis that calls for social distancing and isolation: Free national online webinar that will focus on how social isolation affects people in recovery and practical solutions to gain resilience during isolation. Training available here. Past webinar recorded and online in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
- Tools for behavioral health professionals during a public health crisis: Two-page infographic that provides information on staff wellness and self-care, knowing the signs of burnout, tips for administrators supporting their staff, and technologies and support for remote communication and telehealth.
- CDC strategies for coping with stress.
- Open Path Collective: Open Path Psychotherapy Collective is a non-profit nationwide network of mental health professionals dedicated to providing in-office and online mental health care—at a steeply reduced rate—to individuals, couples, children, and families in need.
- The JED foundation: The Jed Foundation is a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation's teens and young adults.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States.
Wherever you are in your mental health journey, remember that everything passes, and we are stronger if we support each other. Community will get us through to the other side.