Mental health issues escalate in pandemic

By Hayley DeCicco, Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly left its mark in history: millions of people have died, a recession has once again arisen, and countless people found themselves jobless or worse off than they were before. One of the most prominent effects of the pandemic is the worldwide lockdown that ensued. While restrictions are being lifted in various places, many people still find themselves in this lockdown or in some sort of purgatory as they wait for news from the CDC. In the US, the lockdown started on Mar. 11, and since then people have been feeling the effects of the pandemic on their daily lives. Thinking about the lingering question of when or even if normalcy will return, many people have struggled with their mental health this last year.

Pandemics have made their way around the world before, however this one has been the first since the 1918 Spanish Influenza to spark such fear and despair. A century ago, mental health and well-being wasn’t at the forefront of the conversation, and speaking openly about it was certainly considered more taboo than it is today. While topics concerning mental health are still not addressed as openly as they should be, there are plenty of resources and information to help people struggling. However, nowadays there seem to be many more people who struggle with mental health, or at least more people are just opening up about it.

There is a distinction between mental health and mental illness; while similar, they mean two different things. Mental health refers to the wide spectrum of emotion and how it affects our well-being, while mental illness is defined as the conditions that involve problems with behavior, emotions or thoughts. Someone can struggle with mental illnesses while not having a proper understanding of how to deal with their mental health, just as those looking into mental health don’t always have illnesses. How does this connect to the pandemic? Well, humans are social creatures, and for many it has been hard to be isolated or watch loved ones become ill. People with previously existing mental health issues could be put in a worsened state from the amount of change that happened so fast. It’s no wonder why people would be struggling.

Melissa DeCicco has long had mental illnesses; in her early 20s, she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and has since taken medication for it. “In the beginning [of the pandemic], the pandemic made my issues worse,” she said. “I was more anxious because there was so much unknown, and I felt isolated from friends and family.”

Now, she is more used to the mask mandate and is fine with the COVID protocols. “I have not lost hope. There are some days I miss people or feel lonely, but I have never lost hope.”

Having mental illnesses, she recognizes how important socialization is to our society. She thinks that many people now realize that they have to reach out to others who have depression and anxiety.

A person who would like to remain anonymous tells how they’ve been struggling a lot during the pandemic. While this person hasn’t been properly diagnosed with any mental illnesses, they have shared how they’ve struggled with their own mental health. “I haven’t been able to see my friend at all. And I guess I haven’t been really able to interact with anyone so that’s made me feel even more lonely. I don’t have good social skills in general but, I would still at least like to be around people.”

Unlike DeCicco, this person has had a more pessimistic outlook on the pandemic. “I stay in my room most days and I just feel depressed and meaningless sometimes. The days go by and I just don’t want to feel like this anymore.”

As for what’s been good and what’s been bad for them during the lockdown, this person doesn’t mind being at home.  “I get to stay in my room a lot I guess, but it’s not always good for me. What the lockdown has made worse for me is that I can’t go to places I like. For example; the movie theater. I love seeing movies, they make me so happy!”

There’s also Lexi DeWitt, who has struggled with mental illness for the last four years. She has been diagnosed with ADHD, depression and anxiety and believes that the pandemic has made these issues worse. “It’s hard to find reliable resources now and learning online while neurodivergent is not ideal,” she said. “I’m also expected to adjust to online schooling at the same rate as neurotypical students which is kind of ridiculous. Also, part of avoiding my depression and anxiety is creating a routine and socializing with people, but obviously my routine isn’t easy to keep up with when I’m living with my parents again and have no reason to leave the house.”

Her comments on mental health versus mental illness are very insightful: she thinks that while more people are talking about mental health, mental illness (especially in neurodivergent people) is still stigmatized. “We also need to discuss how this is affecting people with other various mental illnesses, not just ‘normal’ people who are now facing depression and anxiety due to the pandemic,” DeWitt said.

Mental illness and mental health issues might increase as the pandemic continues, but that doesn’t mean they have been getting the proper attention. People still need to learn how to deal with their problems or health in general, especially people whose issues have started during the lockdown. The three people mentioned each have a different take on how they view the pandemic and have each dealt with it differently. Considering the vaccine rollout taking place now, hopefully it won’t be much longer that people will be losing their lives to COVID-19; however, maybe we should be taking a better look at how mental health has been affected throughout the once-in-a-century pandemic.