It is no secret that the Covid-19 Pandemic has taken a dramatic toll on the collective mental health of the world. Society experienced (and continues to experience) feelings of isolation, fear about the state and future of the world, and anxiety surrounding social interaction. These feelings have been easily explained as they correlated to the realities that the pandemic created. We felt isolated because we were physically isolated, we were scared about the state of a world that was literally in flux, and we experienced anxiety surrounding social interaction and not wanting to get sick. These experiences were and are very real and should not be taken lightly. At the same time, they are examples of feelings that many with a mental illness feel every day without any explanation or external cause. The experiences we have had as a result of Covid can empower us to be more empathetic and understanding of mental illness struggles.
Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in an increase and exacerbation of symptoms and diagnoses of mental illness. In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%, according to the World Health Organization. This surge in mental illness was, in my experience and community, met with a positive response. My university put a larger emphasis on wellness and self-care, my synagogue and youth group shared mental health resources for isolation times, teachers worked to check-in with students at the beginning of class, various Jewish organizations in my area created Zoom mental health check-ins, and Jewish camps are re-thinking how they approach social emotional health amongst campers. I have also observed an increase of comfort level in talking about mental illness openly due to the experience of the pandemic. At the same time, I know that this is not true of all communities, and I am privileged to have grown up in a relatively mental health positive community.
As the world slowly regains normalcy, we cannot lose our momentum. We did not need a pandemic to start talking about mental illness, but due to the pandemic, discussion about mental illness is even more imperative. With or without a pandemic, mental health should be at the top of our priority lists. Personally, navigating the pandemic as a high school and college student with mental illness has been deeply challenging. Anxiety about getting sick, and depression regarding isolation, added to my list of daily worries and challenges. However, the openness about mental health brought about by the pandemic has further inspired my activism. Locally, I worked to get mental health awareness flyers in 15 synagogues from every denomination. Many of the synagogue leaders that I spoke to noted that they now saw a need for mental health resources that they never recognized before.
Even as Covid rates are going down, we cannot stop talking about the pandemic of mental illness. For many, the feeling of isolation is real even while surrounded by hundreds of people; anxiety is prevalent even when there is seemingly no immediate worry. Pandemic or not, we must keep spreading awareness and providing resources addressing mental illness. Keep checking in on your loved ones, friends, coworkers and students, no matter what our world looks like on the outside, people are struggling on the inside.