New data show that Americans are suffering from record levels of mental distress.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, roughly one in 12 American adults reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder at this time last year; now it’s more than one in three. Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a tracking poll showing that for the first time, a majority of American adults — 53 percent — believes that the pandemic is taking a toll on their mental health.
This number climbs to 68 percent if you look solely at African-Americans. The disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on Black lives and livelihoods — made possible by centuries of structural disparities, compounded by the corrosive psychological effect of everyday racism — is appearing, starkly, in our mental health data.
Laura Bradley: If You Have Anxiety and Depression but Feel Better During Coronavirus, You’re Not Alone (The Daily Beast)
The coronavirus pandemic is a devastating mass trauma—but some people with anxiety and depression have seen their symptoms improve.
When I broached the topic of guilt and shame over feeling good—both with Cohen and Visceglia and, during several sessions, with my own therapist—all three encouraged me to embrace the personal insights this time has provided. The key, it seems, will be carrying this sense of connection and gratitude into the future.
Zeynep Tufekci: Keep the Parks Open (The Atlantic)
Public green spaces are good for the immune system and the mind—and they can be rationed to allow for social distancing.
Mental health is also a crucial part of the resilience we need to fight this pandemic. Keeping people’s spirits up in the long haul will be important, and exercise and the outdoors are among the strongest antidepressants and mental-health boosters we know of, often equaling or surpassing drugs and/or therapy in clinical trials.
If pandemic theater gets mixed up with scientifically sound practices, we will not be able to persuade people to continue with the latter.
Even if health authorities close some parks temporarily while they assess and develop evidence-based policies and best practices, they should do so with transparency and a timeline or conditions under which the parks will reopen. That’s the best of all possible worlds: The authorities will preserve much-needed legitimacy, and the public will retain access to the outdoors under sensible conditions that reduce risk while promoting health, well-being, and resilience—and we will certainly need all of that to get through the next many months.
Slow television is the uninterrupted broadcast of an ordinary event from start to finish. Early efforts included burning Yule logs on TV around Christmas and driver’s views of complete British rail journeys (not to mention Andy Warhol and the pitch drop experiment), but Norwegian public television has revived the format in recent years. The first broadcast was of a 7-hour train trip from Bergen to Oslo, which was watched at some point by ~20% of Norway’s population.
Helen Rosner on Twitter: "One thing I’ve learned in therapy is that in times when the world around us feels terrifyingly beyond our control, we turn to small expressions of control over our thoughts, our bodies, and our time."
One thing I’ve learned in therapy is that in times when the world around us feels terrifyingly beyond our control, we turn to small expressions of control over our thoughts, our bodies, and our time.
Two big ways that desire to regain a sense of autonomy & control can manifest is spending money, and physically going places. If your aging parents (for example) insist on going to the grocery store unnecessarily, it’s possible they’re doing it to (unconsciously) soothe anxiety!
If a person needs to spend money and/or leave their house to feel a sense of control over themselves, telling them not to do it is a direct threat to this assertion of autonomy. Of course they’re going to push back, of course they’re not going to “listen to reason.”
So much of being the adult child of aging parents is the art of benevolent manipulation. (Sorry Mom & Dad, if you’re reading this.) Instead of telling them not to go to the grocery store, full stop, redirect their impulses — buy a cozy sweater online, take a walk through a park
There are ways to both spend money and leave the house that don’t put you or others at risk!
Sometimes people ignore good & urgent advice because they’re assholes or idiots! More often, they’re just scared, and don’t necessarily realize they’re scared, and don’t necessarily realize they’re making their choices in an attempt to calm their fear.
NB grocery shopping can also be soothing because (if the person doesn’t live alone) it’s not just spending, it’s spending *to care for loved ones*. Buying a sweater online doesn’t scratch that itch—in that case maybe the move is buying books or games as gifts for friends/family
This is especially ~a thing~ with many older women, who can have a hard time centering themselves when soothing their own anxieties. (“I’m cold, go put on a sweater!”)
I don’t want to make this all about older generations though! Those beautiful young idiots still packing into bars and restaurants are asserting autonomy. I usually hate leaving the house and lately all I want to do is take the dog for a walk, or go for long drives.
Our brains are always running background programs to rebalance and recalibrate. The best thing you can do is learn how to see it in your loved ones (and yourself! but that’s um many many years of therapy) and gently help them fulfill those self-soothing needs in less harmful ways
Meditation is a simple practice available to all, which can reduce stress, increase calmness and clarity and promote happiness. Learning how to meditate is straightforward, and the benefits can come quickly.
Remember, the purpose of meditation isn’t to achieve perfect control over your mind or stop thinking altogether. The intention should be to bring a more compassionate, calm and accepting approach to whatever happens.
An essay about mental health by musician James Blake, from ‘It’s Not OK to Feel Blue (And other lies).’
When the delusional mental force field of whiteness finally popped (the ‘psychosis’ of whiteness, as Kehinde Andrews puts it, which most white people are still experiencing – I was still able to reap the now obvious benefits of being white, straight and male but without the subconscious ability to ignore my responsibility to the marginalized), I started having the uncomfortable but rational thought that my struggle was actually comparatively tiny, and that any person of colour or member of the LGBTQ+ community could feasibly have been through exactly the same thing and then much, much more on top of that. A plate stacked until it was almost unmanageable. For me it became embarrassing to mention my child’s portion of trauma and sadness.
Combining that thought with the normalized stigmatization of male musicians’ emotional expression in the media, I felt like I must be the ‘Sadboy Prince and the Pea’.
But my girlfriend verbally slapped some sense into me, saying it does not help anybody, least of all oneself, to compare pain. And that was good advice to hear from someone who’d been through what she has. I can only imagine how frustrating it was for this Pakistani woman to watch me – with all my advantages in life – self-sabotage and complain like I have. Fuck.
I believe it is psychologically dangerous for our egos to be built up as much as they are; for the importance of success to be so great; for the world to open its doors more to us than to others (most of us wilfully ignore that those advantages exist, though we feel them deep down, and subconsciously know that it is unfair and that we must capitalize on them).
I believe we’re entitled to no more than anybody else, which at this point requires a lot of listening and rebalancing. I also believe everybody is entitled to pain, no matter how perceptibly or relatively small that pain is. I don’t want the shame around depression and anxiety in privileged people to become worse any more than I want it for the marginalized. Because without addressing that pain we end up with more cis-gendered white male egomaniacs who bleed their shit on to everybody (and some of them will write albums about it).
Dear Fuck-Up: How do you live when everything sucks?
Mental illness is a very much a matter of physiology and not one of will. Anyone who tells you to just try yoga or change your diet or think happier thoughts should have their teeth turn to ashes in their mouth. And I understand the importance of destigmatizing mental illness by rendering it within a medical framework. For too long we have viewed it as a moral indictment, to disastrous effect.
However, I also think this tends to throw a certain responsibility back onto those of us who struggle with it. Yes, my own personal brain chemistry is something I must reckon with, but doing so while navigating a cruel health care system, with the goal of remaining healthy enough to face a laughably uncertain financial future, all in service to surviving a world that is everywhere immiserating, hardly seems a good way to answer “how do I live.”
The best answer I’ve managed to come up with is that you live with intention of making that question easier for other people to answer. For me, the worst aspect of chronic depression (besides the boredom of it all) is the urge to be alone. If you’ve read my previous columns, you’ll notice that I almost always find a way to bring up our beholdenness to others. This is because I’m a lazy writer, but also because the fact of mutual obligation is what gives me the motivation to write at all. It’s also what animates any politics worth having.
AAFU: I wish I was closer with my brother (The Outline)
In any case, I think the way forward is by letting go of your guilt as much as possible, since nobody wants to feel that someone is reaching out to them out of a sense of obligation. You don’t need to begin with a weighty conversation about how terrible you feel, or how sorry you are. A simple “Hey I’m going to be in town next week want to get a drink?” is probably a good start. You can also gently encourage him to open up to you by… opening up to him. During the worst periods of my depression I often find it burdensome when caring, well-meaning people want to talk about me. All I do is lay in bed all day and think about my bad brain; a reprieve from that can be very welcome.
It’s also a nice thing to let someone know you trust them and value their judgment by asking them for advice. In all honesty, writing this column has done wonders for my own mental health. So consider confiding some of your own struggles to your smart, kind, and funny brother.
But however you decide to start, just start. There are countless barriers the world puts up between us — we work too much, and are burdened by financial stress, we receive a steady stream of just enough information to make it seem like we are in touch, the whole way we raise men, the fact that there is some idiot tweeting stupid shit we need to get mad about. I can’t stress enough how much the work of a life is in overcoming these. Close this dumb website and text your brother.
Brandy Jensen: Ask a Fuck-up: I don’t have any friends (The Outline)
Here is something that I rarely, if ever, disclose: I am often overwhelmed by a terrible, howling loneliness. Depression tends to flatten my experience of the world, and grief has lately made it sharp, but loneliness is the thing that really forecloses; it is the sense that whatever I am doing or feeling it will not be shared or understood, that I will be unknown.
It’s a hard thing to admit, and I’m very glad you wrote me about it. It’s strange the things we admit and those we don’t. Despite a general disposition toward vulnerability — on social media, at least, many of us are willing to freely say we’re depressed or anxious or want to die — we seem loathe to admit we are lonely. It feels like a personal failing — to admit we have trouble making friends, to bend toward care and be met with indifference. Besides, the message the world is constantly hammering out is that this is the era of connection! It’s so easy to stay in touch! If you are not constantly awash in the joy of companionship, well — that sounds like a you problem, right?
I think your problem is both simpler and more deeply entrenched. You are an adult in a time when the architecture of the world is designed to keep us separated from each other all while telling us we are ever-less alone.
Leah Reich: Letter of Recommendation: Terro Liquid Ant Bait (NYT)
Ants are a problem that can’t be fixed in one go. Like anxiety, they will come and go and probably come again. The trick with both is to remember how you handled the situation last time. Rather than panicking, you must calmly walk through a set of practiced steps, even if they seem as if they’ll never work. They do, and they will — and that’s the only way out.
Anna Borges: I am not always very attached to being alive (The Outline)
Chronic, passive suicidal ideation is like living in the ocean. Let’s start talking about how to tread water.
What if we acknowledged the possibility of suicidality all around us, normalized asking and checking in? If people talked about feeling suicidal — not joked, as we’ve all started to do online, but really talked — as much as they talked about feeling depressed or anxious, would we finally be forced to see how common it is and start creating space for these conversations? Would it be the worst thing in the world if we started talking about not wanting to be alive, and what might help keep us here?
Of course, even that doesn’t have a straight answer.
“We really don’t know [the impact of] having more casual conversation about suicide,” April Foreman, licensed psychologist and executive board member at the American Association of Suicidology, told me. “Stigma is lower than it’s ever been and suicide rates are as high as they were during the Great Depression. If reducing stigma alone saves lives, the suicide rates should be going down.”
In the absence of good science, one of the most helpful things you can do for chronic suicidality is curate your collection of flotation devices. According to Foreman, if mental health care can only do so much to reduce our feelings of suicidality and equip us with the tools we need to tread water, then it’s crucial to nourish a life full of things we want to stay afloat for.
Jordyn Taylor: If You Care About Mental Illness, It's Time to Stop Saying "Crazy" and "Insane" (Mic.com)
"Using that kind of language sends the message that it's OK to trivialize mental illness and lazily substitute real people's lived experiences for 'wild,' 'silly,' 'dangerous' or 'out of control,'" Lydia X. Z. Brown, an activist, writer and speaker focused on disability justice, said in an email.
"For people able to change their everyday language, becoming conscious of how often they use ableist words like 'crazy' or 'insane' is one small way of reducing the stigmatizing effects of casually ableist expressions," Brown said.
Maybe I’m trying to make up for my personal failings through social activism, journalism, and other projects, as a way to try and make up for my lousy personality. In other words, activism and journalism are also just some sort of emotional crutch for me. It makes me feel quite inauthentic, frankly. But regardless of the deeper psychological motivations for my actions, call it being self-righteous or what have you, I still don’t think I’m wrong.
Then, one day, I calmly quit. I realized that I had learned all the wrong lessons. Celeste Mountain isn’t literal — it’s a metaphor for overcoming the lies your brain tells you. I didn’t need the cliché triumphant moment, I just needed to sit down with the scary parts of myself and tell them to stop being so hard on my friend Emily. Me.
Though many black folks joke about it, there is no such thing as “calling in black.” To call in black would be a radical act of self care, were it available to most black people. On the day after we have watched yet another black body be destroyed by modern day slave patrols, it would be helpful for us to be able to take a day away to process. To grieve. To hurt. To be angry. To try to once again come to grips with the fact that many people in this country, especially those in power, consider us disposable at best.
You Think You're Not That Ambitious. Are You Dead Wrong About That?
The surest sign that you’re incredibly ambitious is a complete and total lack of ambition on all fronts.
Being an overachieving perfectionist becomes worse and worse over the years, in other words, because it turns every source of joy into a source of self-hatred and failure. Aiming for perfect, aiming to be the best, sorting through data to see who’s better, setting impossible goals for yourself: These are poisonous habits that destroy your relationship to your own body, block you from the small pleasures of your day, and leach the natural optimism from your cells.
Every time you check in with yourself, you help yourself. Every time you ignore an old, warped story about what your sensations and feelings mean, you improve your connection to your body. It sounds obvious, of course! But it’s exactly what the perfectionist overachiever — even the one hiding inside that aging stoner on the couch playing Assassin’s Creed for the third hour in a row — doesn’t remember to do. PERFECTIONISTS IGNORE THEIR BODIES, EMOTIONS, AND SENSATIONS. SECRETLY AMBITIOUS SLACKERS IGNORE THEIR TRUEST DESIRES AND PASSIONS.