Covid-19’s hidden mental health crisis

Luana Marques has had a busy few months. Since March, the Boston-based researcher and clinician estimates that she has done about 40 webinars to help individuals process the stress of the coronavirus pandemic. “There’s a lot more need for support,” Marques says. “People in the communities I work with have been a lot more distressed, more anxious, especially after some of the police brutality.”

So in her webinars, she wanted to give people the tools to start to process those feelings. “I started saying, ‘It’s OK not to be OK. Right now, biologically, it’s OK to have that response, it’s natural.’ It’s that permission to understand that sometimes you hit a wall—that it’s biology,” she says. “That’s when I’ve seen people’s eyes light up. That instead of avoiding the feelings, they [start to] welcome the feelings.”

All over the world, people are trying to cope with similar distress—and existing mental health care systems are not always equipped to help them. In China, where the pandemic started, government officials flagged the potential for an acute need for mental health care back in January; in the months since, universities and nonprofit organizations have set up hotlines to field calls from depressed and anxious citizens. In India, where the rate of suicide had been increasing for years before Covid-19 arrived, calls to improve the mental healthcare system have been getting louder.

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