1M Virginians dealing with mental health, substance abuse challenges from COVID

mental health
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A new poll out today tells us that one in eight Virginians either personally experienced a mental health or substance abuse challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, or had a close family member who did.

Doing some quick math, that’s roughly a million of us.

I am one of them, and know quite a few of the others.

COVID kicked my ass, as it kicked a number of y’alls’ asses.

I have no doubt that the stress that I put myself under contributed to a physical health manifestation for me, the blood clot that sent me to the hospital in March, and uncovered what I now realize is a lifelong struggle with anxiety that I had been able to keep suppressed for 49 years.

The poll out today, commissioned by the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, tells us that 13 percent of Virginia residents report having experienced a mental health issue, or having a family member in that situation.

Thirteen percent of the state’s population actually works out to 1.1 million people.

Let that sink in, then think about your circle.

In mine, there’s my dogsitter, a high school senior, who is being treated for depression.

The teen daughter of my former next-door neighbors attempted suicide.

The recent high school grad son of another friend attempted suicide.

A close friend in his 60s went to a specialist thinking he had arthritis in his right hand, only to be told that it was stress.

Those examples, plus the responses on social media to my first two columns on my mental health struggles, suggest to me that the 13 percent in the poll could be just the tip of the iceberg.

My instinct there is that the big issue is that mental health is still something that people aren’t comfortable talking about out loud.

Whereas few would have any qualms about sharing that they’ve had cancer or a heart attack, it’s still a badge of dishonor to many to cop to dealing with depression, with anxiety, with stress, with other mental health issues.

Just get over it, basically, is the response that people who think they’re alone assume they will hear from friends, family, co-workers.

What I’m finding is otherwise.

Since revealing last month that I’ve been dealing with anxiety all of my life, and am now getting treatment for it, I’ve been about as open and up front as one can be, and what I’ve learned from my conversations with people on the topic is, you know what, most of us have some issues that we struggle with, and realize it.

OK, yes, there was that one awkward conversation at a dinner table a few weeks back about a family member who “went crazy” thinking she was sick all the time, but thank God she’s over that now, which of course didn’t help me, because at the time, I was in the throes of a mindset that I was sick all the time, the root cause of that being my anxiety.

I wasn’t crazy; I was suffering from a mental illness, same as a person with a physical illness isn’t crazy for having a physical illness.

That was one awkward conversation. The preponderance of the past several weeks has been positive in terms of not just words of encouragement for me in dealing with my situation, but also for me sharing my story with others helping others come to the realization that they can be more proactive about dealing with whatever they’re dealing with.

This is one area that the VHHA poll numbers seem to bear out. Of those who reported that they or a family member had experienced a mental health issue in the past year, 85 percent said they had already received treatment for their challenges, or plan to.

Count me among those. I’m in Week 2 of therapy, and I’ve already learned a lot – not only that I’m not alone, generally speaking, but that there’s a way back to good mental health, which should work to getting me back toward good physical health down the road as well.

I’d encourage anyone reading this far who thinks that therapy could be a benefit to please, please give it a try.

Looking back on my life, I’ve known, deep down, for a long time that I had issues, but I convinced myself that I didn’t need help, could figure it out myself, and for the longest time, sure, I did, but things got to a point where I couldn’t do it anymore, and things were close to spiraling out of control for me.

The pride – no, the hubris – that kept me from seeking help years sooner manifest in stress that turned my physical health and eventually my mind against me.

I’m not where I need to be yet, but I’m on my way, and I’m going to be a better person when I get there, because I won’t be fighting against myself anymore, but instead living life, free and easy.

I look forward to knowing what that feels like, because I haven’t lived a day like that in my 49 years.

Story by Chris Graham

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