The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported a significant increase in the prominence of mental health issues since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation have all increased. Unfortunately, many of those conditions are persisting, and experts are saying that a post-pandemic mental health crisis is here for a long while.
Dr. Stuart Lustig, National Medical Executive for Cigna Behavioral Health tells Parentology, “It really is the other pandemic that we haven’t been talking about as much.”
You’re Not Alone
Parents may be feeling stressed that they don’t seem to be feeling better now that the situation has improved and that is totally normal.
“As things are getting better, people have this idea that they’re supposed to be getting better. And, in fact, that’s not the way it works. There’s been such a collective trauma as a result of everything people have been through with the pandemic. It may take many more months or even years for us to really put this thing behind us,” Dr. Lustig says.
There are a few things that parents who are struggling should keep in mind, according to Lustig. The first is realizing that even if they may feel isolated, they are not alone in their struggle.
“None of us are doing as well as we’d like to be doing. None of us have accomplished this past year as we thought we could, “says Lustig. He advises parents to allow themselves grace and forgiveness as they navigate themselves and their families back into the post-COVID world.
Lustig’s own research has found that interpersonal connections have proven to be an integral piece in restoring and maintaining mental health. Reaching out to other parents, people in your community, or friends and talking about what you’re experiencing can help.
It’s also important to know that there have never been more accessible ways to seek out a mental health professional.
“There are a lot of resources out there in terms of coaching and peer support and mental health professionals,” Lustig says, noting that busy parents can now reach out to a coach, therapist or psychiatrist through their phone or computer. “About 1.5% of all of our behavioral claims in 2019 were digital and that shot up almost immediately after the start of the pandemic to 60%, and it has stayed constant.”
Don’t Underestimate Your Experience
As the country moves back to a more “normal” existence, the residual effects of a global pandemic will be here to stay for a while. “It’s not going to be this quick bounce back that people are expecting now that we can take off our masks a little bit and get closer to people,” according to Lustig.
Even for those who have not experienced illness, the loss of a loved one or job, or a significant change in their family’s way of life, there has still been trauma.
“We’ve been through this worldwide, collective experience that has really questioned our assumptions. This is really the essence of trauma,” Lustig explains. No matter what your family has been through, everyone has had to grieve something during the past eighteen months and that grief profoundly affects mental health. “There’s a lot of grief and loss. What we are grieving is that collective sense of security and predictability and connection with other people and grief is something that takes a real toll on the human psyche as well.”
For many parents, the most difficult part about addressing their mental health is knowing how and when to start. Lustig advises parents not to get too caught up in finding the perfect solution or provider.
“The point for all parents is this: Don’t hesitate to reach out,” he says. “If you don’t get quite the right fit initially, you’ll get there sooner or later, but don’t hesitate to reach out.”
The first step is to call your health care or insurance provider and see if they can point you in the right direction. Digital solutions like Ginger.com. and Talkspace.com offer access to coaches, licensed therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. iPrevail.com offers on-demand peer support with people struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse. All of these can be accessed by busy parents anywhere they see fit.
Most parents wouldn’t hesitate to get help for their child if they were struggling with their mental health. Unfortunately, many parents are not prioritizing their own. It has never been easier to access mental health professionals and taking care of yourself ensures that you will be there to do the same for your family, Lustig encourages parents.
“You’re going to be able to better support your kid when you’re operating on all cylinders,” Lustig says.
Post-Pandemic Mental Health Crisis – Sources
Dr. Stuart Lustig, National Medical Executive for Cigna Behavioral Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention