By: Kara Yorkhall
Many of us in the United States have the privilege of resuming certain parts of our pre-pandemic life. For me this has allowed some space to reflect on what we’ve been through, and where we’re heading. As I adjust to this new reality I find myself asking questions like, “How has this pandemic changed me?” “What do I want to hang on to, and what do I want to let go of?” “How am I going to recover emotionally, physically and mentally from the pandemic and support my family and my community to do the same?”
In his book, ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers’ Robert Sapolsky defines the ‘building blocks of psychological stressors’, which include a lack of social support, lack of predictability, loss of control, and a perception that things are worsening. That list definitely describes my pandemic experience!
More and more research is illuminating the significant hit that our mental health has taken world-wide because of the pandemic. And there are concerns that our mental health will continue to be negatively impacted for a long time.
Since the beginning of the pandemic depression and anxiety have doubled in the US, from 20% to 40% of the population, according to CDC data. And research indicates that women (especially those who are parenting), young people ages 7-24 and people living in poverty have experienced mental health challenges at much higher rates than other groups. Harvard University research showed that 66% of children aged 7 to 15 showed clinically significant signs of depression or anxiety in 2020, over double the 30% rate from the prior year.
And a survey by CARE International found that women have experienced mental health issues at a rate of almost 3:1 compared with men during the pandemic.
Luana Marques, an associate professor of psychology at the Harvard Medical School who's been tracking mental health during the pandemic shares her thoughts about the future: "My hypothesis is that we'll see a shift in the prevalence of mental illness, and it's going to stay that way for a while."
If Covid recovery is anything like SARS then she’s onto something- 1/3 of patients treated for SARS went on to develop PTSD symptoms according to a 2005 study from Hong Kong University.
For me this research begins to illuminate just how challenging the pandemic has been for us. It calls me to be more compassionate with myself and others and to wonder, “How can we transform the stress of the past 16 months into growth and healing?”
Do you remember this poem from the beginning of the pandemic? It was written by Kitty O'Meara, a retired teacher from Madison, Wisconsin.
And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.
The past 16 months have been filled with beauty and hardship. We are emerging changed, and hopefully able to be kinder to ourselves and others. I believe that each of us, if we choose, can recognize a gift that we can share with the world within the chaos of these times.
What wisdom is emerging for you at this time?