Why is it that when COVID 19 killed many people, it caught more attention than mental illnesses that came first and are less dangerous? How similar or dissimilar are mental illnesses to a virus? And why mental illnesses were more stigmatized than any other medical condition?
Facts first, an enormous number of studies have sprung attention regarding the rise of mental health conditions as a consequence brought by the Coronavirus pandemic. According to Mezzina and colleagues (2020), mental health care services suffer in silence. They predicted mental health concerns to continue longer than the effects of the pandemic. Yan and colleagues (2021) revealed the prevailing adverse effects of the pandemic in hospitals such as anxiety and symptoms of depression. From here, Paras (2021) provided evidence of students’ and teachers' stress, anxiety, burnout, and lower self-esteem. In general, more and more studies showed this consistent pattern ‘Coronavirus begets psychological disturbances’.
Both the Coronavirus and mental illnesses could harm our lives and sometimes it could be fatal, but there is no reason to believe that any of which is worse than the other. The good thing is, both are medical, which can be treated with science, drugs, technology, research, therapies, vaccines, and magic we have not yet invented. What would really set these conditions apart is that mental illnesses were more stigmatized than the Coronavirus. While it is important to note that there are many factors at play that might lead to mental illnesses such as genes, environment, development, and more. But should we only look at psychological conditions as a result, a cause, a trauma, or collateral damage to something ‘scarier’ such as a pandemic, a war, a super typhoon, the influence of social media, etc.?
The invention of not only one COVID vaccine with striking efficacy in just a year is already record-breaking. To add to the fact that we can now live with HIV just like someone with Hepatitis B (which I am not implying that we should). And scientists now have been making huge progress in helping cancer patients live better lives. The point here is that we now have that power to gun down that cellular antagonist threatening our biological wellbeing.
To be frank, based on what killing and immorality that is happening now, the only disease we have not yet found medication for its stigma. Our own negative reaction towards someone we think is ‘crazy, shouting and wandering around’ determines our attitudes towards mental health. In more personal words, some of us are not that brave to go for counseling due to the denial that we are also somehow suffering. No one wants to be called ‘the weak duckling’ to fall under the same hateful prejudice we made, right? This is called self-stigma, which loops into a larger scale of marginalizing others just because of their difference, weaknesses, disabilities, or illness. For instance, my brother is autistic and as a sibling, it would be normal to hate what unaccepting label that my brother and like him would be given just because of their illness. Unfortunately, these effects can be as drastic as George Floyd’s case, sprouting Asian hate crimes, Palestine & Israel conflict, Edwin Arnigo’s case, and what other hostilities could happen tomorrow caused by our negative, unequal and deviant perception we have against our own kind.
Our perceptions towards mental illnesses should be similar to how we look at any other illnesses. There are actually medications and treatments for mental illnesses globally available, even before the largest pharmaceuticals have been erected. To add, other mental illnesses could be alleviated through early interventions, consultation, and assessment, as to more complex desensitization, talk therapies, and psychotropic drugs, etc., where no surgery, no injections, no blood required. Mental illnesses are as real as the symptoms of Coronavirus, HIV, leukemia, diabetes, acne, yet it receives more stigma than any other medical conditions.
But from what you now know, the real virus is killing society and everything in it. The real virus is not contagious but deadlier, the real virus has no remedy, the real virus is that zombie-like behavior where live-humans-target-other-live-humans. Whether it’s homophobia, racism, stereotyping, labeling, discrimination, ostracism, stigma, the real virus here is hate against our own kind. Movies were right about how zombies really behave but wrong on how they look.
In brighter light, like any other crisis humanity faces, we are responsible for the majority of our own behavior. As simple as talking about what makes us anxious, making kind connections with friends and strangers, and seeking help as a normal human need. We now have that capability to proactively change these and in the long run, if we collectively look at mental health in a less dark shade, then society would be safer for the mentally ill as we want it to be for the mentally well.