One in five U.S. adults struggle with mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Despite this fact, individuals with depression are often stigmatized in the United States.
In addition, more than 41,000 people commit suicide each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More Americans now die from suicide than from car accidents.
As May 1 marks the beginning of mental health awareness month, Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a licensed mental health professional, stressed now more than ever people need to be cognizant of their emotional well being.
“As an elected official, pastor and mental health professional, I get to see ‘up close and personal’ the complexities of addressing COVID-19 through policy, programming, and fiscal management as well as the fear, anxiety, sadness and despair of real people- those for whom government officials work,” Cabrera said. “The suicides of the emergency room medical director at New York Presbyterian’s Allen Hospital and a young EMT last week were shocking reminders that mental health awareness can also be a ‘life and death’ matter.”
Cabrera told the Bronx Times when most people think of COVID-19 they immediately think of sickness and death. However, the virus is also affecting people’s mental health. Whether they are working on the front line, have experienced the loss of a loved one, recovered from the virus or feel stressed and isolated at home, depression can sink in.
The councilman noted while it has always been taboo for people to discuss their feelings or seek professional help, it’s even more frowned upon in communities of color. According to the councilman, if people don’t take care of their mental well being they can end up in a “dark hole.”
“A lot of people don’t realize the level of stress that essential workers are going through,” he said. “It’s an urban legend that if you go see a counselor you’re crazy.”
Cabrera stressed that during times of social distancing, he is glad that most mental health agencies and social workers are available via Zoom or Facetime.
Having worked in the field for more than 30 years, the councilman understands how important taking care of one’s mental health is.
He explained that many people in the Bronx, especially his district, were already experiencing poverty and struggling before the pandemic and now the virus has exacerbated their problems.
“I’m asking everyone to check on seniors, call, email or text those who are quarantined, show concern and support in whatever way you can do so safely,” he said. “Talk to your children about how they are feeling. If you are feeling anxious, sad, depressed or alone, get help from the online or telephone services that are offered in New York City, including remote counseling for children. These services are staffed by mental health professionals. You are not alone. We are in this together.”