Guest Columnist

Iowa, mental health and the pandemic

Hearts decorate the windows of the Generate innovation lab at UnityPoint St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Monday,
Hearts decorate the windows of the Generate innovation lab at UnityPoint St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 4, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

“We are in the same storm but not in the same boat.” — author unknown

The daily stress caused by the COVID19 virus, social distancing and a deep financial crisis have had a big impact on all people in our community. It is normal to experience feelings of isolation, anxiety and uncertainty in this abnormal situation. It is also normal to feel fearful — of things that feel out of our control and especially of the unknown. It is easy to find ourselves feeling fearful or judgmental of others. This can make it hard to feel like we are “all in this together” and feel empathy for experiences or situations that may be different from our own.

The current coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis, may have stirred up emotions including harmful stigma against people with serious mental illness, people of color, workers in meat packing plants, and even of parents of teenagers who are doing the best they can to help their children navigate this unprecedented crisis. Groups of people who are experiencing more infections than the general population often face negative attitudes that create more social isolation, anxiety, and may prevent necessary treatment. This can result in harmful consequences for vulnerable people and our community. And yet they may be experiencing more infections due to circumstances beyond their control including where they work or live. Language barriers, cultural differences and trauma-filled histories may contribute to misunderstandings and judgment.

As a unified group of mental health experts in Linn County, we join together and challenge our community members to show empathy toward those affected. Adopt an open mind to those vulnerable people whose lives are at great risk of death from the virus. Now is the time for all of us to take a hard look at the underlying conditions that make it difficult for any people to stay safe and get the help they need. These conditions may include working environment, language, skin color and socio-economic status. The best way for all of us to stay safe, stay healthy, or return to health is to be informed. We need be open to remove any barriers to well-being and practice compassion. We are in this storm together and we can help all our boats find the shore!

Carol Meade, MSW, LISW director of behavioral health services at UnityPoint Health — St. Luke’s Hospital; Mona McCalley-Whitters Ph.D., executive director National Alliance on Mental Illness-Linn County; Emily J. Blomme CEO Foundation 2 Crisis Services; Kathy Koehn RN, LMSW associate executive director, outpatient services Abbe Center for Mental Health; RaeAnn Gordon, MSW executive director Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Linn County; Sara Zejnic director of refugee & immigration services Catherine McAuley Center; Leslie Wright senior vice president, community building United Way of East Central Iowa; Jessica Kelly vice president of operations Tanager Place; Pramod Dwivedi, MS, DrPH (c) health director Linn County Public Health.

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