2020 Made It OK to Talk About Our Mental Health. We Can’t Stop Now.
"I’m not OK.”
It was the summer and I was feeling my resiliency reserve crumble.
We were a few months into the pandemic, and my husband and I had recently found out we were pregnant. The excitement over growing our family quickly turned to grief when 8 weeks in, the pregnancy was diagnosed as ectopic, a potentially life-threatening situation if not treated early.
While driving back from one of the many doctor appointments post-treatment for the ectopic pregnancy, I got the call that my dad was recently admitted to the ICU after a series of health issues over the years.
As I hung up the call, I felt the overwhelm of the last few months collide into one deep outburst of tears – the isolation from close friends and family during the pandemic, the exhaustion of trying to parent during the day without childcare while also lead a company, the depression that came from the pregnancy loss, the worry over my father’s health.
I told myself in that moment: “I’m not okay.”
Historically when I’ve hit a low point like this, what typically happens is I go into a shame cycle. I’m hard on myself for not being “strong enough” or tell myself to “just getting over it.”
But this time was different. While I was isolated physically from the world, I didn’t feel alone in what I was experiencing. I felt connected.
All across the country, across the world, I knew there were millions of these “I’m not okay” moments happening.
We were all grieving something.
2020 was the year we collectively experienced a myriad of emotional heaviness.
And with those experiences, we broke one of the most historically stigmatized issues: Talking about struggling with our mental health.
Grieving the loss of parents, partners, friends. Witnessing violence against Black lives. Trying to figure out how to pay rent when you just lost your job. Being cursed out on the street because “your people brought the virus.” Seeing three times the average death you're used to as a healthcare worker. Trying to keep up at work and homeschool your child. Watching an administration continually erode democracy. This was the year we all suffered.
In fact, nearly 8 in 10 adults said the coronavirus pandemic was a significant source of stress in their life. After the murder of George Floyd, the rate of Black Americans experiencing anxiety and depression increased to 41% in one week. And more than 3 in 4 adults said the future of our nation is a significant source of stress, up significantly from 2019.
So what happens when struggling with mental health becomes the cultural baseline instead of the outlier?
We talk more openly, and feel less alone—reducing the self-stigma of struggling with your mental health.
“The emotional and psychological challenges of 2020 have forced many to confront the reality that friends and family have suffered anxiety, loneliness and loss. With COVID many of us have been forced to slow down. We become more aware of our feelings and fears and of the other people in our lives. We begin to talk and share.” —Dr. Anna Rowley
With the onslaught of the pandemic, the fight for Black lives, the political tension that’s part of our every day, at Shine, we’ve seen the power of creating a daily conversation around your mental health.
When we surveyed our community, we found that 52% of people said they’re talking about their mental health more with others because of the pandemic, citing the fact that knowing “other people are also struggling” as the top reason why.
People who reported talking with others about their mental health more during the pandemic reported a 49% higher rate of practicing self-compassion compared to people who weren’t talking about their mental health.
The search for tactics—like self-compassion, or tricks for nurturing your mental health—are part of a trend, with searches for “mental health tips” at the highest they’ve been in the last five years in 2020 for both the US and worldwide.
And with the increase in conversations around mental health we’ve changed our public view of what it means to struggle—reducing the social stigma.
“We tend to believe mental health problems happen to other people: The unfortunate, the mad, bad or sad have emotional problems like anxiety or depression, not us.” -Dr. Anna Rowley
In 2020, we saw the power of celebrity to break the stigma around the “types of people” that suffer from mental health issues. We saw the pinnacle of success across celebrity, masculinity, and politics use their platform to say: “This is what I’m suffering through...”
We heard Michelle Obama discuss her low-grade depression, Meghan Markle bravely talk about not being okay, The Rock speaking to his 50/50 good days and bad days during the pandemic, Chrissy Teigen talking openly about her ‘grief depression hole’ after losing her child, David Chang talk about battling his depression and bi-polar disorder as a celebrity chef—just to name a few.
Where the entertainment industry has historically been the cause of harmful stereotypes of people struggling with mental health, we’re seeing an opposite, positive impact from celebrities. Recent research from Yale shows celebrity self-disclosure and advocacy from celebrities can lead to normalization and awareness of mental health in the general public.
There’s a feeling of “I know them” that comes with celebrities as we follow their life, their updates, their grief. And research shows that if everyone knew someone with a mental illness, the stigma would significantly decrease.
With mental health struggles part of a national dialogue, we feel like we all know someone who’s gone through it, either someone we know personally or someone we admire publicly.
2020 also became the catalyst for a cultural education on mental health.
In 2016, myself and my co-founder Marah Lidey created Shine to make caring for your mental health easier, more representative and inclusive.
We were frustrated that taking care of your mental health was either overlooked until people were in crisis mode, or on the other end of the spectrum, “being well” was a luxury granted to a few.
Before this year, we had to do a lot of education on why our approach to mental health mattered. The events of 2020 changed that.
You break a stigma through repetition and awareness. With the events this year — the public self-disclosure, our own personal experiences, the news coverage of trauma, grief, isolation— it all rolled into a constant drumbeat of awareness for mental health.
As a culture, we now know:
Solutions need to be specific. The trauma of the pandemic, and the race-based trauma of the continuous violence against Black lives, has impacted mental health for Black Americans more severely—with 39% of Black Americans reporting feeling stress, anxiety and sadness during the pandemic, compared to 29% of those who identify as white.
From the work of Ethel’s Club offering a space for Black Americans to heal, to Shine launching a new category specific to Black wellbeing, to the Loveland Therapy Fund that provides financial assistance to Black women seeking therapy — as Marah wrote about recently, to fight for Black Lives, we know we have to fight for Black mental health.
Healthcare must include mental health coverage. With the pandemic tripling the rate of depression in the US in all demographic groups, we’ve seen a surge in interest from companies looking to partner with Shine as an inclusive mental health benefit for employees. The interest is part of a larger healthcare trend – with 53% of companies providing special emotional and mental health programs for their workforce because of the pandemic.
In a state of chronic stress, we need daily support. Science journalist Tara Haelle summed it up well when she described the collective feeling we’re experiencing—our ‘surge capacity’ is depleted:
“Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems—mental and physical—that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations, such as natural disasters. But natural disasters occur over a short period, even if recovery is long. Pandemics are different—the disaster itself stretches out indefinitely.”
To endure the constant state of uncertainty and the foundation of stress we’re experiencing, we need to create daily rituals to prioritize our mental health. A ritual differs from a routine in that whereas the structure of routine comforts us, the specialness of ritual vitalizes us.
In fact, research shows that “rituals can act as a buffer against strong negative emotions” and with searches for “daily ritual” reaching the highest they’ve been in 5 years, it’s clear we are looking to build new practices for the new, tumultuous times.
At Shine, we’ve seen the power of daily rituals first hand. Each day, members turn to Shine for a 3-part daily ritual: Meditate, connect and reflect. And from our surveys, we know the top benefit for our community is the Daily Shine ritual that helps people “feel more in control of their day” during a time where control feels so limited.
“2020 has shown the inherent resilience in people and communities. We have engaged with adversity, persisted, rebounded from loss, anxiety and doubt and have learned from the experience. My wish for 2021 is that we don't have to go through the worst to be our best.” - Dr. Anna Rowley
Marah and I started Shine because we had a vision for the world where talking about what you’re struggling with would be the baseline, not the outlier. Where vulnerability was shown in both the private, and public spheres. Where we eradicated the self-stigma and social stigma of the very thing that makes us human—struggling.
And in the struggle, finding connection and meaning along the way.
The collective pain of 2020 pulled all of our stories into one spotlight, where mental health took the mainstage. And where the groundswell of pain finally broke the stigma.
Now let’s keep talking, so we can start healing.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, know that seeking help is a strength—not a weakness. If you or someone you care about needs help, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357)—it's free, confidential, and available at all hours.
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