What the pandemic taught us about mental illness and inequality

Humanity has faced its share of challenges and hardships in our brief existence on Earth. From mass famine, wars, catastrophic events, humanity has persevered and adapted to new and harsh circumstances. A global pandemic, while demanding as much attention and respect it deserves, is no different.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 transformed many sectors and industries, often pushing businesses out of existence. However, the pandemic also exposed inadequacies in government and healthcare systems.

As countries continue to roll out vaccines and slowly lift restrictions, we can learn from this experience with some insights into preparing to live in a post-COVID-19 world.

The pandemic forced everyone to introspect.

2020 was a time for reflection and self-awareness. Many businesses permanently shut their doors, and industries were forced to restructure their organizations. Many people lost their jobs and had to file for unemployment or even seek new career opportunities.

Collectively, our practices and lifestyles were thrown into question. Family bonds were tested, as mothers, fathers, sons and daughters alike tragically lost their lives. Those that survived were left with a new perspective and worldview.

The pandemic gave many people time to think about their lives. In a culture obsessed with hustle and wealth, the pandemic provided a rare opportunity for some to evaluate their lives.

Eliminated job positions forced people to revisit their skill sets and find other means of income. Some took the opportunity to pursue lifelong goals or tasks they left aside for a more convenient time.

The takeaway is the importance of respite and re-evaluation. We work without knowing whether we’re closer to achieving our goals and seek monetary satisfaction instead of fulfilling endeavors. The pandemic opened many eyes to this reality and gave people a second chance.

The pandemic exposed inaccessibility to mental health services for BIPOC communities.

Social isolation and quarantines took a significant toll on everyone’s mental health, but vulnerable groups were much more susceptible to these factors. While some were able to quarantine and work from home, most BIPOC communities were forced to work throughout the pandemic.

Many of these communities had limited resources even before the pandemic, and COVID-19 only exacerbated this disparity. People without access to therapists or mental health care are more likely to develop mental illness and live with life-crippling symptoms.

With many industries going virtual, online counseling and therapy have also taken steps to address the disparity of available mental health resources. Sites like MindDiagnostics deliver self-administered assessments to determine if your symptoms are a sign of mental illness.

The pandemic exposed systemic oppression and racism.

The pandemic was a great equalizer. People among every stratum of income level were somehow affected and had to change their habits and daily lives. But the storm didn’t hit everyone the same way.

Studies show that African American, Latinx, and American Indian persons were twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than white, non-Hispanic people.

Homeless people were more likely to contract COVID-19 due to not being able to safely quarantine. Prisons and jails became COVID-19 hotspots, causing widespread cases and deaths among the imprisoned population.

Despite outcries from families and advocates to enforce stricter safety standards, prisons and jails continued to keep inmates near each other during state social distancing mandates. These prisons have a disproportionate population of BIPOC folks.

Final Thoughts

The pandemic opened people’s eyes to just how replaceable we are and allowed them to redefine themselves.  It also showed the vast systemic inequalities rampant in our society.

As we move past the year of pandemic, let’s not forget that we still have a long way to go before we’re out of the woods. More needs to be done to address social and health issues of underserved communities.

If we are to prepare for a post-COVID world, we must address all the maladies our nations have perpetuated and begin to heal from them.

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