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Government Announces Funding to Address Mental Health Crisis

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently announced that it would be providing $3 billion in services to address the mental health crisis our country is currently facing due to the effects of COVID-19. In addition, a federal board will be assembled to effectively distribute these services across the nation. The events of the past few years have undeniably contributed to the ongoing crisis, with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse on the rise. In addition, the pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequities in mental health, with African-American and low-SES households suffering more acutely from bereavement and unemployment, and Asian-Americans experiencing increased hate and discrimination.     

            The steps that SAMHSA is now taking to address mental health represent a huge leap forward. Not only is the new initiative an acknowledgement of the importance of the mental health effects of the pandemic, but it addresses the pandemic’s intersection with existing societal constructs such as race and socioeconomic status. The convening of a board demonstrates not just federal attention towards, but also proactive participation in this under-appreciated aspect of healthcare. Of course, mental health is not just an issue during the pandemic. Rather, it is a pervasive problem that has been festering for a long time, as the world transitions to the digital age and people struggle to keep up with the rapidly accelerating change marking our societies. Without a doubt, one unexpectedly positive outcome of the pandemic is that it has turned global attention to mental health.

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A COVID Christmas

This is our second Christmas since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but experiencing the holiday during the pandemic is more stressful than ever, as a recent New York Times article points out. The virus and its variants, inflation and economic hardships, and the traditional family fiascos that accompany the holiday season are all piling on, resulting in a not-so-merry Christmas for many families. Simply visiting relatives has become an ordeal, with COVID-19 tests in heavy demand and family members disagreeing over vaccination. The Times suggests that for single women, the struggle is even more fraught; the fluctuating severity of the pandemic has introduced a pervasive uncertainty and a return to agoraphobic tendencies born from the early months of lockdown. Indeed, since Thanksgiving therapists have seen a rise in clients, many of whom are suffering from near perpetual anxiety and fear due to the combined influences of the holidays and COVID-19.

            The pandemic’s disruptive effect on the holidays demonstrates the dire realities of the mental health situation in this nation. During the daily grind, it is easy to chalk anxiety and stress up to the hardships of work or school life. However, during the holidays, when individuals should be finding space to relax and recuperate, the pandemic is relentlessly adding stress to their plate. The situation will only continue to worsen as the pandemic drags on. Obviously, as the NYT article asserts, holidays are far from stress-free, but there are certainly much more stressful events we must prepare for, such as the loss of a loved one or a period of unemployment. The anxiety that people are experiencing now due to the combined stressors of the renewed virus and the holidays is only a foreshadowing of what is to come if we do not address the issue of mental health.