Listen: Breaking mental barriers in 2021

Recent years have proven that mental health is no longer as stigmatized as it was before. Today, public discussion on it runs freely and without limit, thanks to celebrities and influential figures brave enough to share their own struggles with the rest of the world.

But there are still certain barriers that remain. And unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic has introduced new challenges, as well as exacerbated old ones.

In today’s episode of the Revel podcast, we’ll be taking a look at several barriers to mental health, most of which have been the result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. We’ll also be discussing what experts and psychologists say to arrive at recommendations that will hopefully allow us to effectively break mental health barriers this 2021.

A decade ago, mental health was perceived as a taboo subject – something only talked about behind closed doors. Those with noticeable issues were often made fun of, such as Britney Spears, whose breakdown was heavily publicized and turned into a tabloid sensation.

Fortunately, much has changed since then. Thanks to steps made in recent years, the discourse surrounding mental health have now been normalized. Hollywood celebrities, business leaders, and other influential people have all spoken up about their struggles with issues like depression and anxiety.

Because of this, many are now unafraid to admit to both themselves and the world around them that they have their own mental health issues too. Rather than try their best to work through these alone, they instead seek and receive guidance from the community, which enables them to be their best selves, in spite of what they’re going through.

To quote Katrina Gay, the National Director of Communications and Public Affairs at National Alliance on Mental Illness, “There’s a cultural movement going on in terms of transparency and authenticity. As more celebs come out and get a supportive response, it’s encouraging other people to do so, too – and the truth is, people need support and understanding to be their best selves.” End quote.

This widespread acceptance of mental health issues has spurred countries and workplaces across the world to extend their own supportive measures, as well.

For example, the United States recently passed the Mental Health Services for Students Act, which provided children access to comprehensive mental health programs in their schools. Through this law, the government hopes that at-risk youth are identified earlier, allowing them to receive treatment immediately.

On the other hand, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act was passed in 2008 by the Singapore government to ensure that criminal suspects with purported mental health issues aren’t abused or exploited by the system.

Rather than receive punishment, these offenders are instead given counseling and treatment, as well as opportunities for rehabilitation. This not only addresses their mental health issues but also reduces their risk of re-offending or committing another crime.

But the fight is far from over. Even with these leaps and bounds in mental health public discourse, our society still has a long way to go before we can achieve a widespread normalization and embrace of this once-taboo subject.

While a significant number of people have always suffered from mental health issues, this figure drastically increased in 2020, given the COVID-19 global pandemic and the subsequent lockdown measures that were enforced.

In the United States alone, nearly half of the population claimed that their mental health was seriously harmed by the outbreak. In fact, a federal emergency hotline for those in emotional distress reported a 1,000 percent increase in April 2020, compared with the same time last year.

It’s the same story in other parts of the world.

For instance, the Samaritans of Singapore – an organization geared towards suicide prevention – reportedly received over 26,000 calls from January to August 2020. This was a significant increase from the number of calls that it had received during the same period the year before.

According to The Straits Times, quote, “Chief Executive Gaspar Tan said callers sought help for issues arising from the economic impact of COVID-19, stress from having to adapt to telecommuting and home-based learning, and social relationships affected by the virus situation.” End quote.

Meanwhile, Dr. Geraldine Tan, the Director and Principal Psychologist at Singapore’s The Therapy Room also reported seeing a 15 percent increase in clients in 2020. For her, this dramatic rise was due to how the global pandemic not only exacerbated pre-existing conditions but also caused mental health issues in those who previously had none.

The outbreak has clearly become a turning point in mental health issues, which means that barriers must be broken in 2021 to ensure that the appropriate support and guidance is given to those in dire need of it.

Given the numerous mental health problems that many suffered through, experts claim that burnout and overwhelming feelings of isolation will both play crucial roles in the months to come.

Due to lockdown and quarantine measures, countless holiday celebrations and monumental life occasions had to be paused or completely taken off the table. This led to people across the world losing out on opportunities for social development, which is an absence exacerbated by distance learning and work from home arrangements.

Burnout and isolation are both huge barriers to mental health and well-being, which is why experts recommend that people invest in themselves more this year. Rather than pushing themselves to their very limits, they should instead focus on basic self-care practices, such as eating healthy meals and getting enough rest.

These measures, however, could be another problem. For some medical professionals, the global pandemic has seen sleep issues becoming increasingly common, particularly among those who worked – or are currently working – on the front lines.

According to CNN, quote, “Sleep, trauma, and new challenges are other factors that have led to sleep disturbances and disorders. People on the front lines of healthcare, those who witnessed death, and individuals who were stuck on cruise ships, may experience post-traumatic stress that can lead to insomnia and nightmares.” End quote.

These kinds of scenarios aren’t easily forgotten, especially if they were experienced over a prolonged period. They’re also often repeated over and over again in dreams, which undoubtedly disturbs the individual’s rest.

While sleep issues are another barrier to mental health stability, experts claim that they can be resolved by developing a regular sleeping routine and sticking to it. Practicing meditation and other relaxation techniques are other things that come highly recommended.

This isn’t the only suggestion that has been made, though. Psychologists have also called on companies and organizations to do their own part in resolving mental health barriers in 2021.

For instance, employee mental health and well-being is posed to become a budget line item in the next few months, due to how it has been proven to be closely linked with job performance and productivity.

Because of this, industry observers claim that employers will start to invest more in ensuring the mental stability and general wellness of their workers.

Besides corporate workers, educators and teachers are also posed to see their mental health being prioritized. An increasing number of them were found to be suffering from burnout and overwhelmingly high-stress levels, due to the distance learning systems that they were forced to adopt.

While their mental health wellness has been largely ignored, thus far, experts agree that major shifts will be happening this year.

To quote software company EVERFI Inc., “As we enter into 2021 and likely see additional changes take place within our education systems, many districts are recognizing the need for resources to protect their greatest asset – their educators. Professional development funding, structural changes that include teacher and mental health care, and support groups are just some of the ways, in which schools are focusing on the well-being of teachers – a mental health trend, which we will likely – and hopefully – see continue in 2021.” End quote.

Such measures have already been implemented in many countries. For instance, the Ministry of Education in Singapore introduced a professional development program called “SkillsFuture for Educators,” which aims to give teachers opportunities and avenues to improve their abilities in various areas, including e-pedagogy and inquiry-based learning. This would better equip them with the tools and skills necessary to facilitate an online classroom.

Without a doubt, this increased focus on the mental health of corporate employees and educators will be a huge help in dismantling even more barriers in public discourse regarding mental health.

Mental health may no longer be considered a taboo topic, but there are still barriers that remain. From traditional ones, such as the high cost of treatments and the lack of appropriate resources, to newer ones caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic, like sleep disorders and burnout.

It’s clear that more still has to be done to improve our understanding of mental health. Only then will we be able to introduce effective programs and solutions that will help those whose mental wellness leaves a lot to be desired.

Only then will we be able to dismantle the many barriers that continue to prevent people from reaping the benefits of a stable mental health.