PEERS Perspectives is a blog series that offers thoughts and reflections from our staff and community members on mental health, current events, and the ways they affect our lives.

Today’s post on Mental Health perspective is written by Program Evaluation Specialist Sarah Marxer

Are you noticing what I’m noticing? In conversations with friends, with people in my family, even with neighbors, it seems like there’s a growing recognition that everyone has mental health — just as we all have bodies in varying degrees of physical health, and teeth in varying degrees of dental health. 

The pandemic is causing severe stress for almost all of us, from the isolation of sheltering in place, to grief and rage about the deep racial injustices that are exacerbating the pandemic, from the experience of illness, to the loss of so many of our fellow humans, from fears of getting sick, to economic hardship, to enormous uncertainty about the future. Fewer and fewer people, it seems to me, have the luxury of ignoring their mental health. Perhaps one of the things we’ll learn from this time is that we all have mental health needs.

Stigma feeds on the idea that mental health is just an issue for a select group of broken people. It looks to me as if that idea is being exposed as a lie before our eyes. When almost everyone is facing challenges to their mental health, it’s easier and easier to see that mental health challenges are a common part of human life — especially when life gets hard. For a long time, lots of us have been trying to shift the main question the mental health system asks from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” The good sense of that shift is becoming clearer to many people, because something awful is happening and the effect on our mental health is pretty clear.

For those of us who have felt that we were alone with our struggles, or that our struggles marked us as different from the rest of humanity, this moment in time can challenge that sense of isolation. Even in my most painful times during the pandemic, it’s easy for me to tell that I’m not the only one suffering — and that, in fact, feeling pain of one kind or another (grief, fear, loneliness, etc.) is actually much more common these days than feeling fine.

What are you noticing about how our understanding of mental health is changing (or not) during this time?