Out of the Shadows
For most of us, the last year or so turned the words “How are you?” into something more than just a reflexive preamble to a breezy chat. Instead, as we virtually checked in with far-flung family or distant friends, we really, really needed them to answer that question.
The pandemic has been perhaps the greatest collective strain many of us will ever experience. Over roughly 14 months, we’ve become conversant with mask etiquette, inured to quarantines, and desperately aware of everclimbing case counts. Yet while the pandemic marched across the globe multiple times, we were also often left feeling like helpless observers in a world caught holding its breath.
And when George Floyd was killed last May, the trauma each of us has been feeling rocketed to heights that have felt almost unbearable.
Mental health practitioners know that living through extraordinary, unrelenting stress takes a serious toll. Individuals who’ve survived battlefield conditions without physical harm can often still be brought low by post-traumatic stress, where accumulated psychic damage becomes a constant—and vicious—companion.
Today as we begin to anticipate returning to something approaching normal, we’re left to uneasily wonder what lasting effects this global event will have? For those grieving lost loved ones, the hope brought by vaccines or new treatment protocols that still came too late for their family may feel deeply unfair. For individuals suffering mysterious “long haul” Covid symptoms, the promise of a better tomorrow may seem impossible.
And even for those of us who were fortunate enough to avoid infection or losing our livelihoods, we may still experience tinges of residual sadness that we can’t quite put our finger on.
If there is a light to be found here, it’s that admitting we’re struggling with our mental health no longer carries with it the stigma it once did. Good mental health has become a basic human right to be acknowledged, discussed, and nurtured.
If you’re one of the many people feeling unmoored right now, simply recognizing and saying out loud that you’re scared or anxious or profoundly sad is a critical first step. Then reach out for help. Skilled therapists can help all of us talk through confused feelings. And in many cases, medications may help lighten the load or rebalance brain chemistry that’s become wobbly.
In this issue, we look at the topic of mental health from a variety of angles. We speak with U of M researchers and alumni who are working within this sphere and hear from others who have firsthand experience with the subject.
And once you’ve had a chance to read this issue, please drop me a note at the address below. I’d like to know: How are you?
Kelly O’Hara Dyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.