As We Emerge From the Pandemic, Mental Health Matters More Than Ever

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by Charlene Marshall |

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I love the memories feature offered on various social media platforms. With the click of a button, you can revisit what you were doing or posting about on the same day in previous years.

I recently read an old post on one of my social media pages that reminded me how I was feeling around this time last year. I was just starting to seriously consider a leave from work to prioritize my mental health.

When I made the difficult decision to temporarily step away from a job I loved, most people assumed it was due to fear or anxiety about COVID-19. It’s been scary to live with a chronic respiratory disease while a virus that attacks the lungs spreads rapidly across the globe, don’t get me wrong. I felt isolated and anxious, especially in the beginning.

I feared falling deathly ill from the virus, or that fellow idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) patients might not survive if they caught COVID-19. There was a lot of speculation early on that those who were immunocompromised would not be able to fight off this novel coronavirus.

Despite those fears, COVID-19 wasn’t the reason I chose to take a mental health leave from work last summer. I was exhausted all the time, short-tempered, and easily emotional — all signs of burnout and compassion fatigue. I chose to take a leave so I could focus on activities that brought me joy, even if that meant catching up with friends virtually due to the pandemic. As an IPF patient, I needed time to catch up on rest, both physically and mentally.

When I looked at my Facebook memory from one year ago today, I reflected on how awful I felt back then. I am grateful to now be in an entirely different place mentally. I still have difficult days — I think it’s unrealistic and impossible to avoid them while living with a life-threatening illness — but they happen far less often compared with this time last year.

I share this because I want people to really consider what they might need mental health-wise as we start to emerge from the pandemic and restrictions ease in some parts of the world. As a trained therapist, I’ve heard several other professionals say that we are on the brink of a mental health epidemic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among our children.

The prevalence of mental health challenges has risen sharply since COVID-19 began. Statistics Canada examined the impact of the pandemic on mental health and found that 21% of Canadian adults screened positive for at least one of three major mental health disorders between September and December of last year. Of those who screened positive, 68% reported that their mental health had worsened since the beginning of the pandemic.

As restrictions ease and we begin to find a new normal, I challenge everyone to take care of themselves and each other. Post-pandemic life will look a bit different compared with life before COVID-19, and this will require some adjustment. Some people will transition with ease, and some will find it more difficult.

Patients living with chronic illnesses like IPF know the importance of caring for our physical health — our bodies demand it when we have failing lungs. However, we often forget the importance of our mental health. A year later, prioritizing our mental health is more important than ever, even if it feels like there is light at the end of this proverbial pandemic tunnel.

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Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.

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