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When news of the pandemic first surfaced, many of us anticipated being only temporarily disrupted. No one could have predicted how challenging and enduring the pandemic would turn out to be. Nearly two years in, we have found ways to adapt and return to some normalcy, but not without a cost. While the emergency phase of the pandemic seems to have passed, experts are anticipating a long-term impact on individuals’ mental health. Social isolation, employment changes, relationship strains, chronic uncertainty, and health anxiety are just some of the factors that have led to a collective rise in emotional distress.

What makes this pandemic uniquely tough is its continuing nature and the inability to identify a definite endpoint. Our brains are not designed to live under chronic stress, and not surprisingly, we’ve seen a surge in depression and anxiety in recent years. According to the National Health Interview Survey the average share of adults that reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depression rose from 11% in January of 2019, to approximately 41% in January of 2021. The ability to recognize these symptoms in ourselves and others is critical in getting the support we need to feel better.

Although the general perception of mental illness has improved in recent years, the stigma remains powerful. People tend to hold negative biases against mental health conditions at a far higher rate than other disorders and disabilities. As a result, many people do not speak openly about their struggles and may avoid or delay seeking treatment.

How can we start to shift this narrative? Facilitating open and honest conversations around mental health can help normalize the topic and empower people to get help. Share your story (at your own pace, of course) and invite others to do the same. Life is hard, and one of the biggest challenges is recognizing that it’s okay not to be okay. Speaking up when we’re struggling is a tremendous sign of strength and courage. This is a sentiment we’ve seen echoed recently by prominent figures including Olympic athletes, celebrities, and politicians.

Another way to overcome stigma involves thinking about mental health in the same way we do our physical health. Rather than viewing emotional problems as a moral failing, try viewing them as something that simply requires your care and attention, just like you would a physical health condition. Even using the term “brain health” instead of “mental health” can be a reminder that our brain is simply another organ in our body that needs our focus and nurturing.

While the pandemic has brought forth numerous challenges, it has also shined a light on the importance of mental health. Approaching our internal experiences with compassion and curiosity, as opposed to self-judgment, allows us to better care for ourselves and seek the support we need. When we work to de-stigmatize mental health struggles and view the emotional problems through a more compassionate lens, everyone benefits.

If you or someone you know is struggling, please call the CRISIS HOTLINE.