By: Dani Kessel
[Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. I do not claim to be an expert. All my writing on mental health topics is based on my education, my personal experience, researching the topics, reading studies, and fact-checking. I can only provide so much information though. I always advise that you seek out a therapist or psychologist for professional help.]
Since the COVID-19 Pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, the CDC has found that mental illness struggles have significantly increased. From last year to this year, people experiencing anxiety symptoms have tripled, depressive symptoms have quadrupled, and serious suicidal ideations have doubled. Furthermore, approximately 25% of folks reported trauma and stress disorder symptoms directly related to COVID-19, and 10% of respondents reported starting or increasing substance abuse to cope.
Along with the CDC’s findings, the World Health Organization found that mental health and psychiatric services available have decreased since before the pandemic. All these things considered, many people are suffering and hurting without an understanding of why. Many of them never struggled with a mental disorder before.
To help people understand why a mental disorder can manifest seemingly out of nowhere, I’d like to discuss a psychological concept called the diathesis-stress model.
The diathesis-stress model was first suggested by Joseph Zubin as a nurture-and-nature-balanced explanation for schizophrenia. However, it has since been accepted in the field of abnormal psychology as a viable biopsychosocial theory for developing mental disorders. (Biopsychosocial theories: explanations for abnormal psychology which combine genetic, biological, developmental, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social, and societal influences.) The basic idea is that you must have two components: diathesis and stress. Diathesis is a genetic, biological, or trauma-related predisposition towards a psychological disorder. This must first exist in a person. Then, you need an episode of high environmental or societal stressors. Combining these things produces a scenario that triggers latent mental illnesses.
I like to use this graph from the Practical Psychology website to visually explain the concept:
Based on this theory, the huge increase in individuals experiencing mental illness symptoms isn’t even a little bit surprising. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased financial strain, resulted in job loss, housing instability, minimized human to human contact, stripped away support systems and some stress-relieving activities, obliterated many long-term plans, and disallowed us from seeing (in person) the people we care about. On top of all that, there is the very real fear of dying, heavily impacting folks with chronic illnesses and folks who are essential workers. Then, add in the fact that some people who are essential workers are on minimum wage and can’t afford rent and food and medical care, plus they are getting yelled at by customers/patients. Any one of these things could be a strong enough stressor to trigger a mental illness. The combination of most or all these things creates a high enough stress-level that virtually any predisposition towards mental disorders will be triggered.
This model explains the increase in people living with mental illness, but it does nothing to actually relieve the suffering that these disorders can cause. That’s why it’s more important than ever to boost mental health care and therapy and research-supported coping mechanisms and routines and all the things that can help ease the burden of symptoms. (I will list some hotlines at the end of this article for anyone who needs more emergent mental health help.)
We need to do our best to take care of ourselves and one another as we struggle to get through this pandemic.
If you are struggling with newly emerged mental disorders, know that you aren’t alone. Many of us have gone through what you’re experiencing. I know it doesn’t feel like it right now, but it will get better. And in the meantime, there are many resources to help you through this trying time.
USA Crisis Resources:
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish), or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablanos for Spanish to 66746. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico can text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663.
- US National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish
- US National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
- US National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
- US National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
- NAMI’s COVID-19 resource guide: https://www.nami.org/getattachment/About-NAMI/NAMI-News/2020/NAMI-Updates-on-the-Coronavirus/COVID-19-Updated-Guide-1.pdf
International Resources by Country: https://checkpointorg.com/global/
Finding healthcare providers for substance abuse or mental illness:
- SAMHSA’s US National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889
Help When You Need It website: http://helpwhenyouneedit.org/