Two Fridays ago was not only the beginning of May, but also the end of the sixth week of the stay-at-home order for Pennsylvania citizens. It was also the day of Governor Tom Wolf’s first announcement regarding the state’s plans for a phased re-opening.
While some of the state’s northeastern counties heard good news — the move to the yellow phase — the rest of the state had to patiently wait and focus on controlling the number of COVID-19 cases in their counties while maximizing the information from contact tracing, testing and so forth.
And yet, in the throng of finding out if your county would soon be one step closer to some semblance of normalcy, the first day of May is important for many other reasons. There’s May Day, also known as International Workers Day and Labor Day, which highlights the importance of labor workers and working class citizens — and, in this case, the increasingly difficult lives of essential workers.
Despite all the recent craziness, people protested their jobs and their unsafe work conditions. Big companies like Amazon were boycotted on May Day as people chose to not spend. All the while, another important May observance fell by the wayside: National Mental Health Awareness Month.
May is the perfect time for mental health awareness. Springtime is in full swing, with the cold winter and seasonal affective disorder in the rear view. The figurative “April showers” have passed, and May flowers mean a bright month of sunshine and vibrant colors. The weather, the warmth, the ending of the school year (for most schools) and playoff sports create a perfect month for mental health to be celebrated and valued.
But with the world at a standstill, how can anyone enjoy the springtime with any semblance of peace or clarity? How can Mental Health Awareness Month truly be revered, remembered and praised?
Simply put, the coronavirus pandemic overshadows the month as a whole — why focus on Mental Health Awareness Month amidst the sheer dread of a pandemic?
Well, to be frank, it is just as important right now as your physical health — just as it always has been.
In a time of extreme uncertainty for both your well-being and your economic present and future, mental health is of the utmost importance. In the middle of a global crisis that cripples your physical capabilities, a hidden factor that seems to affect many healthy and quarantined people is their quick decline in mental health and stability.
Will teletherapy sessions be free during May? Will there be more emphasis placed on programs designed to help people with struggling mental health problems brought on by stay-at-home orders and the lasting coronavirus quarantines? Are there people who will get specialized attention due to their increased anxiety? And most importantly, what about the hundreds of thousands of Americans grieving their loved ones? Will the people with mental health needs — in the month where they should be most remembered — get a pandemic plan?
These questions may not even occur to many people, including those with legislative powers.
Be sure to check in on your friends often this month and every month of this quarantine for as long as it lasts. Let random acts of kindness be your guide. Focus on well-being in every form. Be okay with not being okay, and know when you need help and when you can help others.
Mental health is not just a battle that is won, it is a battle that is always fought — and this Mental Health Awareness Month, we as a country need to figure out how to take on the new fight.