America needs therapy. We have a mental crisis on our hands with no end in sight. One in 3 of us now meets the threshold for clinical anxiety or depression, and cases of depression have increased threefold since the pandemic, with 1 in 5 Covid-19 patients developing a mental illness as a side effect. All the chronic worrying and isolation from the pandemic have literally rewired our brains, and it’s not for the better.
There’s been a lot of pontificating about both the mental health epidemic and the financial crisis that’s upon us. But these two conversations are fundamentally intertwined.
While we need national and state-funded psychological support to get us out of this mess, the government (of one of the richest countries in the world, no less) is providing the bare minimum when it comes to basic needs, such as housing and food. Yet, these are the services crucial to preventing the worst mental health crisis in a generation.
There’s been a lot of pontificating about both the mental health epidemic and the financial crisis that’s upon us. But these two conversations are fundamentally intertwined. While the former hasn’t spared anyone, it has by no means affected everyone equally, as people who are the most marginalized have seen their mental health decline precipitously.
While psychological trouble can be the result of genetics and childhood development, it’s also distinctly situational. It can be sparked and exacerbated by our relationship with the world, and how differently it treats us, and we are seeing this play out clearly in this pandemic.
If you fall into the low-income category, you are already more at risk for developing mood disorders, suicidal ideations and substance abuse. People who lost income or employment during the pandemic reported starkly higher instances of mental health issues than those who did not. Black people, Indigenous people and people of color have been hit the hardest. Anxiety and depressive disorders have been worst amongst women, with those who are essential workers, nonwhite and pregnant being the most affected. One of the populations that’s seen mental health plummet is unpaid caregivers, two thirds of whom are women.
In response to all of this, one of the tips the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended is that people practice “self-care.”
Besides eating a healthy diet, meditation and exercising regularly, this includes seeking therapy. While therapy would certainly be a useful tool for vulnerable people, some problems can’t be solved with meditation tapes and serenity candles. And there’s only so much therapy that can make up for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s unbridled cruelty and monstrous negligence and the wreckage it could permanently cause to the financial security of millions of people who already couldn’t make ends meet.
One of the main catalysts for mental health isn’t just genetics, it’s poverty.
One of the main catalysts for mental health isn’t just genetics, it’s poverty. And to say that the mental health crisis playing out in marginalized communities has been exacerbated because of McConnell’s failures is a colossal understatement. His refusal to sign a stimulus package and to sign off on a stimulus check has thrown millions of Americans into poverty. It’s about to get worse as moratoriums on rent and utilities will expire at the end of the year in the very middle of what experts are calling “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
As the new year approaches, The Washington Post reported that 12 million Americans, many living paycheck to paycheck, will have to pay back an average $5,800 that they will owe in rent and utilities by early January. The heartbreaking piece reported parents pawning their sons’ playstations to pay for food and a mother losing power on her child’s first day of virtual kindergarten.
The completely avoidable housing crisis we are about to enter in the dead of the winter will certainly make these next few months one of the most devastating periods in American history. With the mere threat of facing eviction reportedly sparking or increasing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, imagine the mental strife of people when they indeed will be forced out of their homes.
The good news is that an effective solution is very simple: To significantly improve mental health, give people money. This worked out when Canada pilot tested a universal basic income program in one of its provinces before the pandemic, and results showed the program didn’t just improve people’s living conditions, it also had a neat side-effect: a steep decrease in mental health problems, and even a decrease in the use of health services.
To say that the mental health crisis playing out in marginalized communities has been exacerbated because of McConnell’s failures is a colossal understatement.
As Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has pointed out, Canada has paid people $2,000 per month since the pandemic hit, while the U.S. government hasn’t offered a single stimulus check since the first week of August. That was more than 100 days ago.
For those who point to a failing economy as a reason why the government can’t afford to just hand out checks, it’s important to acknowledge that corporations have received billions in Covid-19 relief funds so far, with many using the government’s money to throw seven-figure salaries to their (already) wealthy CEOs.
For those who point to a failing economy as a reason why the government can’t afford to just hand out checks, it’s important to acknowledge that corporations have received billions in Covid-19 relief funds so far.
The emergency fund ran out of money before many small businesses could even apply. In other words, large corporations can get help they need, but if you’re a low-wage worker at one of those companies, you’re out of luck.
As long as already rich Americans rich get richer, it cannot be the greatest country in the world. We have the data: The largest gaps between the rich and the poor also happen to correlate with the gap in mental health. Countries with less disparity in access to health services, such as Finland and Sweden, also happened to have survived the 2008 recession with less bruises.
Mental illness and rampant income inequality go hand-in-hand and will continue to feed into each other unless we cut them at their root. And If McConnell can’t understand the gravity of both impending calamities fomented under his leadership, and if he cannot have empathy for millions of Americans already suffering, perhaps he could use some therapy, too — but accessing quality mental health services from the best practitioners wouldn’t be a problem for him, would it?