COLUMN: Mental wellness and the pandemic

By NATHAN HOWELL | Staff Writer

Like many people, my world completely changed a year ago as COVID-19 began to rear its ugly head in the United States. At first, the complete lack of knowledge about the disease caused anxiety in most people, including myself.

We understood so little in the beginning that experiencing anxiety was not the outlier, but the standard. Even people who had never dealt with anxiety, fear or depression were suddenly confronted with their own issues. Whether those fears were about mortality, or the culmination of years of ignoring your problems and then suddenly being forced to face them because you were stuck at home.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimated in 2019 that nearly 51.5 million people, or one in five adults, deal with some form of mental illness, which can range from mild to moderate to severe, depending on the situation. This number will likely be higher once more data becomes available for 2020.

For better or worse, this led to a much broader conversation about the need for awareness of mental health and wellness. Hanna Stiltner, owner of Soul Story Therapy in Helena, explained that this created a larger discussion about ending the stigma attached to seeking help.

“There should not be a stigma,” Stiltner said. “We do not have all the answers. We feel things and we need to know that those things are very real. The problem is that the reasoning we give for them is not always the truth. Our minds get in this cycle where we want to get back to the core self. That is what therapy is there for.”

Therapy may not be the solution for everyone, but more and more people are willing to give it a try after this past year.

As we come out of the pandemic, we will all have to deal with the mental repercussions for a lifetime. However, maybe admitting to ourselves that we aren’t infallible and that it is OK to ask for help, can make things a little bit easier.