Covid brings mental health to the fore

Dr Gabrielle Hosein -
Dr Gabrielle Hosein -


The pandemic has made mental health concerns go mainstream. That’s powerful news for activists who have been labouring for decades to destigmatise challenges with anxiety and depression.

Whether because we are a heightened health risk to each other or job loss or isolation or additional care responsibility or generalised increase in stress, a lot of people are simply not functioning as they might have been before, often with only a vague sense of why.

The new academic year started this week on campus and I’ve had to revise my expectations, noting how many more students seemed unable to cope, complete or excel last year, some simply because they had to move back home with their parents, others because whatever they were managing to survive before is now too much.

Scientists even talk about our children and the bleak future they face, for the first time in generations, because of the climate catastrophe we continue to cause. It feels like we are in wartime, but have to act normal. Can we blame those who can’t?

In our house, we have turned to exercise like a miracle cure, taking walks or bike rides as much as we can.

It was really hard when outdoor exercise was prohibited. My ten-year-old falls apart when stuck indoors without sufficient physical activity. Her behaviour, mood and co-operativeness change, and I’ve come to realise how much children mired at home, on their devices, and without an outlet for their emotional energy are quietly crumbling even if neither they nor their parents realise.

What’s interesting is how we are all supposed to return to school, and a set subject timetable, as if extra attention to emotional wellness isn’t as necessary as the content students must cover. Our approach to schooling simply hasn’t caught up yet with a curriculum that includes mental wellness.

It barely nods to how children learn through play or multiple learning styles or the harm of high-stake exams or the reality of neuro-diverse capacities, often understood as autism spectrum disorders, but actually just the different ways that brains naturally work. When children return to school, will the Ministry of Education and TTUTA understand the times we are in and acknowledge that children’s and adolescents’ emotional context isn’t as it was in 2019?

Again, sports has provided the teaching examples we have drawn on over the pandemic. Here, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka has changed the game.

The highest paid in the world by 22, Osaka’s struggle with mental health, motivation and emotions has been heavily publicized, with her describing feeling vulnerable, anxious and depressed for the past three years.

When formidable athletes are using these words, it makes us acknowledge that these are not feelings only associated with failure, but even the most successful among us. And, beyond being successful is feeling well and being healthy.

The brilliant gold Olympic medallist, Simone Biles, whose skill has surpassed even the rules of gymnastics, similarly pulled out of events to focus on her mental health and physical safety.

In support, dozens of others – swimmers, weight lifters, sprinters, basketball players and other gymnasts – are speaking out about depression, ADHD, being bipolar, insomnia, contemplating suicide and seeking therapy. In this, another generation and the young women who are its best examples of athletic determination and sacrifice are leading the way.

These brave women are the models for my ten-year-old who I hope can help create a more compassionate world for herself and others. She should know that the journey to emotional wellness and mental health is not one you walk in secret, alone or ashamed.

Can you imagine if that was the message we gave to adolescents with the same emphasis that we put on exams?

Audiences haven’t entirely caught up with these changes, and Osaka and others have faced significant social media bullying for not performing as expected or, better put, for meeting others’ expectations.

Their replacements are heralded before they even leave the mat, pool or the court. That’s an important lesson too. Public accolades are fleeting and unforgiving, and they don’t set the gold standard for balance, good health, emotional connection and self-care.

I’m also thinking about my young UWI students. They must learn to work through difficulties, complete goals, do well and look after themselves.

And also ask for help. Perhaps, this is a shift that the pandemic is encouraging us all to finally make.


"Covid brings mental health to the fore"

More in this section