Covid has devastated the world in two ways- via death and disability from this contagious disease, and via mental health disruptions caused by the chaos it has caused. Lives have been turned upside down by shutdowns, quarantines, hospitalizations, unemployment, and so much uncertainty. The sheer amount of fear and uncertainty that accompanies any pandemic raises stress levels, while disrupting lives and making planning for the future seem impossible.
The information regarding Covid-19, ways to prevent it, and a possible vaccine has been uncertain and confusing. Terrible misinformation has permeated society as politicians and entertainers try to twist its meanings.
Before Covid hit in 2020, mental health wasn't exactly what we call great. There have been increasing signs of stress and dysfunction. Suicides and mass shootings have been on the rise. Use of illicit and prescription drugs to help with mood, happiness, and stress are higher than ever. With the threat of climate change, economic inequality, and racial tensions, hope in the future isn't exactly where we'd like it to be.
So we are in a real pickle. Covid has damaged the world's psyche while making it harder to get help in person. This blog is devoted to figuring out what we can do about it, both during and after Covid. There are ways to be mentally healthier, and we'll be looking at this.
The Centers for Disease Control has many helpful links and resources on their Covid mental health page, and I recommend anyone look it over for more help during this trying time. That page can be accessed here.
For this blog I will be combining original essays with reviews of powerful books on mental health. As with my previous challenge, the Covid Weight Loss Challenge, we'll be looking at a variety of aspects in no particular order. If you have suggestions for a topic, you can contact me at email@example.com.
But let's start with a challenge. There are many misconceptions about mental health, and one of the biggest is that it's a cut and dried simple diagnosis. Either you are mentally ill or you're not. Just as with physical health, there's a wide spectrum of mental healthiness, from the institutionalized to the super-humans. Most of us fall in between- able to negotiate life for the most part, but harnessing any number of emotional and mental blocks that hinder us from being as happy as we could be.
With that in mind, I'm starting the Mental Health Challenge by taking a mental fitness test I call the Mental Health Index, which is an average of ten other mental health indicators. I invite the reader to fill it out too and see how you score at the end of this challenge. It's a simple test that is in no way scientific, but covers a lot of the territory I want to cover.
The Big Idea Mental Fitness Index
Answer the following questions on a scale of 1 to 10, (or 9 in one exception) and then add up your score to get your index. This blog is all about big ideas, so hopefully these questions will provoke some good ones.
1- How do you feel about your past?
A one score here means you are haunted by traumas and events of your past and think about them all the time. A ten score means you've dealt with your past and released the hurt and forgiven all who hurt you- your past comes with no emotional baggage.
2. How do you feel about the future?
A one score means that you are pessimistic about your future and don't have much hope it will ever get better. A ten conveys that you are very optimistic about the future, not only for yourself but for the world in general.
3. How is your physical health?
How is your weight, sleep, diet, and general energy and pain level? One means you're close to dying, ten means you feel physically great most of the time.
4. How do you feel about your work life?
Do you get satisfaction and meaning from what you do for a living? One here means you are either hopelessly unemployed or in a dead-end job you absolutely hate. Ten means you love what you do and feel that it is why you are here on earth. (Work here also includes being a student, stay-at-home parent, or senior citizen volunteer).
5. How interested in life are you besides your work?
Do you have interests, hobbies, or activities that keep you going, or are you just existing? Give yourself a one if all you do is work and watch television passively. Give yourself a ten if you have a hobby or interest (and that could include television) that you're truly passionate about.
6. How connected are you?
Do you have friends and family that love and care about you with whom you interact on a regular basis? If you're always lonely, or around toxic people, that would be a one, and if you have a great, loving support system then it's a ten.
7. Do you have any addictions that are holding you back?
Addictions could be drugs or alcohol, or it could also be other behaviors that you can't control like gambling, sex, screen time, eating, work, or anything else that you can't stop yourself from doing once it gets past the point of damaging your lifestyle. One would mean you are ruled by addictions, and ten would mean you are completely addiction-free. (This one tricks a lot of folks, so you may want to check your answer with those that know you well.)
8. How big of a part does fear play in your life?
One here means you are afraid and anxious most of the time, and it keeps you from doing a lot of the things you'd like to do. Ten means that fear doesn't play a big role at all in your life, or in your decisions.
9. How resilient are you?
How do you think you'd react if any major life-changing event turned your world upside down? One means you think you'd crumble totally if anything bad happened to you or a loved one. Nine means you've already anticipated the future and dealt well in the past with adversity, and are prepared for any earthquakes that might happen. (Note you can't give yourself a ten here because none of us can know what the future might hold completely)
10. How happy are you?
Rate your happiness right now on a scale of one to ten.
Now add up your score and see how you did. Try to be honest with yourself as you're the only one who needs to see this.
If you were hoping for some kind of scorecard to make sense of your score, you won't get one here. All I can say is that if your score is 20 or below, consider seeking professional help. You deserve a better outlook on life that that. If your score is 90 or above- good for you- but you may have trouble finding any areas to grow in. I invite all high scorers to re-evaluate themselves honestly and look for areas where growth is desired, and adjust your score downward to a more realistic level.
More than likely you scored in the 25-75 range, if you were honest, and that's the fun area where growth is truly possible. Whatever your score, try not to judge it or yourself. Think about how it makes you feel and if it motivates you to work on something. If you're stuck in the middle like most of us, look at your lowest score of the ten and think of ways to improve it. None of these is set in stone, which is why measuring mental health is so impossibly tricky. There is no brain scan that tells us how things are going.
Use this score as you would stepping on a scale. It's feedback from your brain. There's no reason your scores can't rise significantly if you put in the work, and there's always the danger that life can drag you down. Self-awareness is the start of any journey, and you can't fix any problems unless you can identify them.
This is the first in a series of essays on mental health in the 21st century. I will be covering a lot of ground in different areas and will be trying to put together a model for mental fitness that stands the test of time and everyday difficulties. These essays are tailored to anybody and everybody who didn't score a 100 on the above test. I invite you to look at all of them and decide for yourself what mental fitness means for you and the ones you love.
If you think Covid or something else is pushing you to a breaking point, I recommend seeking out help as soon as possible, as there's plenty of good help out there. Here are some of the ones recommended by the CDC:
Get immediate help in a crisis
Disaster Distress 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish), or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablanos for Spanish to 66746. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico can text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663.
National Suicide Prevention 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat
National Domestic Violence 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
National Child Abuse : 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
National Sexual Assault 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or Online Chat
The Eldercare Locator 1-800-677-1116
Veteran’s Crisis Line 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Chat or text: 8388255
Find a health care provider or treatment for substance use disorder and mental health
SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889
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The above information is provided courtesy of the author who has done his best to be factual. You are still responsible for interpreting and checking those facts elsewhere, and I make no representations that I am a mental health expert beyond what I presented. Thank you.