When the pandemic first hit, most people’s concern was for their physical safety. Suddenly, we were re-thinking in-office jobs and going to the grocery store. We were not necessarily aware of how all that fear and stress would impact our mental well-being. Phelps, however, took a different view.
“Those of us in mental health knew going into this what would happen to folks,” he says.
With 40 years of experience as a clinical psychologist, the last 25 of which have been in national leadership positions around mental health, Phelps was well aware of the ways uncertainty and, as he puts it, “tremendous loss” (of life, liberty, work and so on) can impact a population. Staying home and wondering if sending your child to school or touching a doorknob might be the decision that kills you can, he notes, wreak havoc on one’s inner equilibrium.
“Those are seriously active ingredients for social disturbance,” Phelps observes.
Accordingly, where 20 to 25% of the U.S. population had a diagnosable mental health condition before the pandemic, CDC surveillance suggests that, by June 2020, closer to 40% of people were experiencing mental health or substance use problems.
Phelps sees the world starting to open back up and return to a pre-pandemic normal as an opportunity to discuss psychological health.
“As the physical health threats reduce, what rises to the top are mental health conditions,” he says.