Covid-19’s Silver Lining: How A Pandemic Will Help Us Confront America’s Mental Health Crisis

May 21, 2020

Covid-19’s Silver Lining: How A Pandemic Will Help Us Confront America’s Mental Health Crisis

Matthew Bock & Jennifer Comiteau

Stigmas surrounding mental health have long forced Americans to suffer in silence. Keeping internal angst private has been a routine practice of the nearly 47 million Americans impacted by a mental health condition. While Covid-19 has undoubtedly caused suffering, death and isolation, its tumult might just remove the cloak of secrecy that has long plagued many mental health sufferers and their families.

OBERLAND’s recent study, “There Is No Normal, Only New,” powered by real-time insights platform Suzy and in conjunction with publishing partner Guardian U.S., revealed that an astounding 83% of Americans admitted to feeling stressed and overwhelmed since the arrival of Covid-19 – and what’s more, 45% have sought out additional mental health help or support. Seventy-six percent said they feel more empathetic toward people going through mental health challenges since Covid-19.

In other words, the mental health landscape is changing – and brands and employers have no choice but to keep up.

83% of Americans are stressed during Covid-19.

“The fastest ways to end stigmas of any kind have always been first-hand exposure and shared experiences,” said OBERLAND’s co-founder and president Drew Train, a Board member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City and advocate for mental health in the workplace. “Covid-19 has created both for Americans, regarding their mental health. Almost all of us are feeling increased stress and anxiety brought on by a mix of fear, uncertainty, change and misinformation. This is causing people to reflect on their mental health and the issue in general, which has resulted in a growing sense of empathy. My hope is that we can harness this empathy and use it to improve our capacity to treat people effectively and with dignity.”

In this climate, marketers that acknowledge consumer anxiety will be the winners. “Coronavirus is having a significant impact on consumer behavior,” said Train. “Brands that lead with heart and act with empathy, that make themselves more down-to-earth and honest will be better able to reclaim their loyal consumer base post Covid-19.” 

Solidarity surrounding mental health has been another important effect of the current public health crisis. Matt Kudish, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City (NAMI NYC), says there is not only “more permission to talk about mental health – to say ‘yeah this is scary,’ ‘I’m freaking out’” but to feel that this is universal and shared. “There’s a really community piece of the experience,” he says, which could also explain the rise in help-seeking behavior. 

Pre-Covid studies suggested that the percentage of Americans who sought out help hovered at about 9% (17 million Americans). That’s just a fifth of what the recent study reveals, which doesn’t surprise Pamela Bell, the founder and CEO of Prinkshop and a co-founder and creative partner of the Mental Health Coalition. “People who have never even used the words anxiety and depression are now hearing and using these words on a daily basis,” said Bell, whose work with the Mental Health Coalition focuses on reducing stigma.

“The coronavirus crisis will ultimately force people, brands and employers to acknowledge that each of us has a mental health and that it must be taken into account in daily life.”

With 41% of survey respondents saying initiatives to protect employees is a top action they want brands to take, marketers can’t afford not to listen. Consumers who want more sanctioned time off to take care of their mental health issues are going to be watching to ensure that brands that portend to be purposeful – especially during the Covid-19 pandemic – live the external messages they espouse to consumers.

Internationally recognized mental health speaker and author Hakeem Rahim – founder and CEO of Live Breathe – echoes Bell’s sentiments. “Companies will now have to make mental health a priority because the awareness of the connection between how we feel and how effective we are is very clear,” insists Rahim. Brands that move from product centric mindsets to human-centric mindsets will win. “Performance is directly connected to wellness and mental health that must be addressed,” said Rahim, adding that the pandemic has proven that when people’s mental health is sound, they are more impactful and focused.

Rahim believes that this fundamental shift will affect every area of our lives – from education, to healthcare, to connecting with family – because the idea that it is abnormal to struggle with mental health will no longer be normal. “How we view mental health and how we address our own mental health on a daily basis are going to prove to be essential parts of our lives,” said Rahim.

With 63% of Americans revealing in the survey that they won’t feel comfortable going to a concert or a sporting event for at least three months after life reopens, and more than a tenth saying they won’t resume activities for a year, putting mental health care in the spotlight is an unexpected but welcome Covid-19 impact.


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