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Repairing the damage done to mental health

It seems more and more studies are confirming what we already knew regarding the toll taken on our collective mental wellbeing during the pandemic.

An Ohio State University study of adolescent males showed worsened mental health between March and June 2020, including 32% reporting worsened mood, 33% increased anxiety, 25% increased thoughts of suicide, 25% reported used of substances and 75% reporting one mental or behavioral health symptom in the last 30 days (before June 2020.) One school district in Ohio reported 84 students hospitalized due to mental health issues during the pandemic, according to an Ohio Capital Journal report. Though that particular study focused on males, other studies have shown the pandemic having a negative impact on females as well. The OSU study included 8% who were Black, while also noting 3/4 of those surveyed lived in households with an income of more than $50,000. In other words, mental health issues know no sex, race, age or social status. Mental health concerns affect everyone.

Though restrictions have lessened, we are not back to “normal.” A different study from OSU’s Office of the Chief Wellness Officer found 71% of college students surveyed reported experiencing burnout in April 2021, up from 40% in August 2020, and increases in unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as eating poorly, tobacco/vaping, alcohol and decreasing physical activity.

Depression is not something that goes away because the world is returning to factory settings; it existed before the pandemic.

Though we appear to be emerging from the pandemic, there are new warnings and triggers for anxiety — vaccine hesitancy and news of the spread of the delta variant, to name a couple.

Given the damage that has been done — and what we have learned — we must continue to work to end the stigma in discussing mental health, and provide the resources we ALL need to take care of ourselves.

We cannot ignore the damage done by both the pandemic itself and the efforts to stem its spread, which created isolation and drastic changes in the way we learn and work (if those things were possible at all).

Lawmakers confronted with the mountain of information from study after study — including those conducted at OSU — should take seriously the need for financial resources that boost mental health programs (and access to them). Officials must behave as though they understand mental health care IS health care, and the push to make it affordable and accessible should be just as urgent as that for other fields of medicine.

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