Don’t Read This Article
By Galen Lastko,
Published in the Humboldt Independent on December 22, 2020
While it’s been discussed from the onset of the pandemic, the impact of COVID-19 on our collective mental health over the past year is in many ways as significant a factor as the virus itself. While millions have been infected by COVID-19, millions and millions more have been impacted by the disease’s effects on society, in ways that challenge our adaptability and mental fortitude. This time of year can already be stressful under the best of circumstances: There’s nothing that brings extended families together quite like those inevitable pandemic/election year conversations around the (possibly virtual) dinner table. Everyone seems to think everyone else is going a bit crazy in 2020, and as it happens, everyone is probably right.
One of the main suggestions was to avoid excessive consumption of news or media related to the coronavirus.
Which sounds like the bog-standard human experience until you factor in the effects of the media, both social and conventional, eager to remind us that not only is everyone going crazy, but that this craziness is somehow newsworthy. I don’t honestly believe that they’re entirely to blame: we keep clicking, so they keep writing, and it’s not like newspapers are selling these days. A document released back in March by the WHO anticipated the storm of media attention surrounding the virus and provided a communications guideline intended to “support mental and psychosocial wellbeing” during the pandemic. One of the main suggestions was to avoid excessive consumption of news or media related to the coronavirus, the irony being that this information was of course itself a piece of news and media related to the coronavirus. All amusement aside, there does seem to be a reasonable limit on how much time we ought to spend obsessing over COVID-19.
The most direct effect of the pandemic on our collective mental health is the persistent fear we have been subjected to for months now. Exacerbating this fear are the contradictory or intentionally provocative nature of the countless different websites, blogs, forums, and other media outlets so readily available. Instead of providing knowledge and alleviating anxiety, trying to educate yourself amidst such varied speculation, assertion, and pandering often ends up making things worse, according to the WHO. Too much contradictory information, it turns out, can numb the synapses and induce anxiety, just the same as not enough information can, especially when foisted on an already isolated population with plenty of time to go online, worry, provoke, and argue with each other.
Just like our physical fitness, mental health is best achieved by practicing preventative measures and taking care of ourselves every day.
A lot of the initial underestimation of COVID-19’s potential, along with the persistent denial of its impact (or even existence) correlates directly to how we have traditionally handled mental health issues in our culture. Just like our physical fitness, mental health is best achieved by practicing preventative measures and taking care of ourselves every day, but there’s plenty of indicators that your average human still distinguishes between “crazy” and “normal” people, as though there’s some sort of switch that gets flipped. We do it with those addicted to drugs or living on the street as well as those we perceive as simply daffy, so it’s no surprise we’ll do it to each other when the world is on fire and a tiny virus has taken over.
Try if you can to spend more time talking with others about the virus than reading in isolation. If you’re uncomfortable with digital forms of communication like Zoom or Skype, make yourself try again: missing out on human contact is a huge contributing factor to mental health issues. Don’t post on forums or social media pages if what you’re saying is confrontational – even if you’re right, nobody ever really wins an argument on the internet. Put that energy into self-care when you can, or into sanity-friendly tasks like exercise, reading, journaling, hobbies, arts, or crafts. Make sure to have guilt-free fun however you can manage, as long as it doesn’t involve arguing on the internet. Or reading endless clickbait news articles about COVID-19. Unless it’s one of mine.
Galen Lastko, submitted on behalf of the SoHum Health’s Outreach department.