How the pandemic is making some NJ residents mentally ‘stronger’
It's hard to say whether anyone's better off because of the pandemic, but there are New Jersey residents who feel the mental health disorders they've been battling for years have improved over the course of the COVID-19 health crisis, and that the emergency has made them realize how capable and resilient they can be during the the worst of times.
This article is part of a week-long New Jersey 101.5 series that examines the pandemic's impact on mental health and the treatment available for those who seek help. You can replay our town hall special here. For a list of resources, see here.
Essex County resident Renee Audrey, 20, said her "whole life was flipped around" at the onset of the pandemic, but that she's a stronger person now than she was in March 2020.
Audrey, who's been battling anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder for years, has continued seeing a therapist, via telehealth, over the past several months. But being stuck at home, without typical socialization or much else to distract her, she was forced "to take the real driver's seat" in her therapy.
When it seemed the hardest to keep calm, Audrey said, she turned to outlets such as writing music — sometimes about her present feelings and struggles — to maintain control.
"The pandemic was very, very hard, but I do think that it was monumental in my therapy journey," Audrey told New Jersey 101.5. "I do have to say I have grown so much, it's absurd, and I don't think I would have grown so much if it wasn't for the pandemic."
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager, on top of anxiety issues, Bernardsville resident Patrick Mellin had been "stable" for a number of years leading up to 2020. Since March, Mellin said, his anxiety has picked up and he's been "hyper-aware."
He wouldn't call himself "blessed or lucky," but believes his history with mental illness set him up to weather the COVID-19 storm.
"I really feel like I have been able to deal with it," the 35-year-old said. "I wouldn't be able to say that if I had not spent so much time in my life working on myself and paying attention to my mental health."
Mellin runs a weekly support group for people living with mental health conditions, which has seen a rise in participation during the pandemic.
Professionals throughout New Jersey have seen the impact of COVID-19 on the mental stamina of state residents — not just those who had been battling issues prior to the pandemic, but also individuals who are new to treatment, which they sought out due to the stress caused by the infectious disease outbreak.
Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown, suggests the pandemic has actually produced "some positives" in his field — families are spending more time together, and children have fewer in-school and after-school demands.
"That's actually putting less stress on kids," Tobias said.
Those having more difficulty coping with the public health crisis, Tobias added, could end up developing the skills and attitudes necessary to overcome difficult situations in the future.
"Any challenge, when confronted, builds resilience," he said. "The fact that kids might be struggling right now, everyone's being challenged right now — in the long run, that's not really a bad thing."
Catch up on this week's special series on mental health during the pandemic.
- MONDAY: COVID-19 vs. mental health — NJ residents share their stories
- TUESDAY: More youngsters seeking mental health treatment due to COVID-19
- WEDNESDAY: Before COVID, therapy access was already a problem in New Jersey
- THURSDAY: Our heroes — the impact on first responders, healthcare workers
- FRIDAY: Some people are doing better and thriving
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.