A mental health crisis could be on its way – but you can help

The coronavirus pandemic may result in the most dramatic disruption to the American experience in my lifetime.

The stock market is grinding to a halt. Much of the country is under quarantine. And the college campus I love, for all its quirks, is joining thousands of others in shutting its doors for the rest of my senior year – cutting some students off from their only respite from abusive families or unwelcoming home lives.

Granted, there’s a certain privilege in being able to mourn parts of life such as my education when, as of this writing, more than 95,000 people around the world have died from the virus. Our elders, and those with compromised immune systems, need our help.

But I’m also worried about what a tanking economy, institutionalized isolation, and educations put on hold mean for a nation with roughly 46 million people with mental illnesses, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Social interaction, and a sense of purpose, are essential to living a healthy, adjusted life.

And even when millions of citizens are not trapped in their homes and possibly facing unemployment, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Mental health treatment is already drastically underfunded without taking into account the major fiscal pressures this virus will pose on our government.

I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but the situation looks pretty grim.

This is far from the first disaster our country has faced, and it won’t be the last. But – and perhaps I’m too young, or too unfamiliar with our history, to know better – there are few periods I can think of when people have been so deliberately cut off from each other, so invested in their own echo chambers, and so unwilling to reach out to their broader communities.

The irony, though, is that we’re technically more connected than ever.

And as we face what could be one of the most challenging periods in recent history, I’m hopeful uniquely modern technology may be able to help address this aspect of our modern crisis.

I don’t know how to solve the coronavirus pandemic, but I do know that social distancing doesn’t have to mean online distancing.

As you think about how to help our most vulnerable populations, please consider reaching out to those you love with mental illnesses as well.

Reaching out to a friend in need is a small step. There’s nothing glamorous or exceptional about it. But for those of us in our darkest moments, sometimes little gestures mean the most.

We’re in this together.

I hope we can all be there for each other, too.

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