We’re all exhausted and pushed to the limit by months of social distancing, and the recent news that cases are climbing in many states is especially scary.
While you may feel like ripping off your mask and heading for a bar, there are more productive ways to deal with the challenges we face. And in fact, staying home may be the best course of action in the next couple of weeks, some experts have said. It’s also a good time to learn and practice resilience.
As a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Connecticut, I believe these unprecedented changes have had a significant and adverse impact on the mental health of Americans. And there is no end in sight. If ever a moment called for understanding the concept of resilience, this is it.
Resilience is the ability to adapt to adversity or a stressful life event. Research on resilience has a rich history, dating back to the 1950s; those studies focused on children growing up in high-risk environments. More contemporary research looks at how we adapt to traumatic events like cancer, natural disasters, and terrorism.
Resilience can be learned — While some researchers suggest resilience is “trait-like” – that is, hard-wired into one’s personality – others say it can be learned and acquired later in life. Some even say adversity brings potential benefits. “There is nothing better than adversity,” said the activist Malcolm X. “Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve the next time.”
The pain and suffering during this pandemic are undeniably real for everyone. But specific segments of the population are disproportionately affected, particularly those with preexisting mental health and substance use disorders.
The statistics — Nearly one in five U.S. adults (more than 46 million) live with a mental illness. One in 12 (about 19 million) report a substance use disorder. Nearly 9 million adults live with both. The highest rates of mental illness are in young adults ages 18 to 25 (25.8 percent), lowest in those over 50 (13.8 percent), with more women (22 percent) than men (15 percent). Moreover, these numbers reflect a 12-year upward trend.
The pandemic now presents additional challenges for managing both mental health and substance use disorders. Visits for psychotherapy and medical management have been canceled or disrupted; there is more social isolation, loss, uncertainty, and worry.
Loss and suffering may change a person, but much will influence its trajectory, including biological, environmental, behavioral, and psychological components. Any life stressor, to some degree, is out of our control. How long will the pandemic last? When can we go back to school? To work? When can we stop social isolation? Wearing face coverings? What sources of health information are trustworthy? All valid questions, but they are also unknowns and uncertainties; we don’t want to get stuck ruminating about…