The COVID-19 pandemic has created a mental health crisis. Having a vaccine available brings light at the end of the tunnel.

“When will this end?”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic this question, often asked in the wind up to a deep exhale, has become as common as wearing a mask. And while it may feel rhetorical, it is actually very important to ask — and even more important to get answered.

When we experience prolonged stress, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel becomes imperative for recovery. The loss of your sense of security in the wake of a disaster can be traumatizing, and feelings of helplessness, shock, guilt, even anger are normal.

We often internalize our experience, as well as the recovery process following a personal tragedy. But, we have all suffered the ongoing trauma of COVID-19 together, watching in horror as the death tolls topped one million, cities shut down and families fell apart. And now we need to build a path together toward recovery.

We have all suffered varying degrees of stress or loss during the pandemic, and everyone reacts differently. But, the arrival of the COVID vaccine was a critical step in the healing process for every single one of us. While it will take weeks for full protection to take effect, and with herd immunity still far off, there is one immediate effect that everyone can and should grasp on to now — hope.

As we begin to turn the corner as a community on COVID, with multiple vaccines now approved and being distributed, I think we can apply some of these elements to our collective recovery process.

And that starts with hope.

Hope

Rather than just a wish, hope is a belief that things will get better. The vaccine enables all of us to believe firmly that we’re going to get out of this, and that recovery is real.

A positive outlook can also change how we see ourselves. It pulls on a past history of recovery from adversity to speak to our ability to overcome current and future adversity.

Responsibility

While in the process of recovery, you have a personal responsibility for your own self-care, and establishing and meeting goals to support that. Families, friends and communities also have a role to play by supporting and providing resources to those in recovery.

During COVID-19, we should all identify what role we play in overcoming the crisis:

  • Practice proper social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing
  • Join with and advocate for others to find their strengths, needs, wants, desires and aspirations
  • Support loved ones who are struggling, especially children, youth and those at increased risk of the disease, as well as their family
  • Foster social inclusion and recovery
  • Spread science-based information to those in and out of your bubble

Becoming a resource helps both your personal recovery, as well as that of the larger community. By changing the discussion from “what are we going to do,” to “how do we recover,” we’re really shifting identity from suffering helplessly to moving forward and taking responsibility.

Respect

We can all help by creating a respectful environment at the community, systems and social level. In relation to mental health and substance abuse, we strive to foster social acceptance and appreciation for those on their journey of healing and transformation. But, when applying this element to COVID-19, we must give cover to both those on this path of recovery, as well as the facts around the virus, and the vaccine.

Taking steps toward recovery takes courage, and so does speaking up against misinformation. Many Americans are still hesitant to get vaccinated, some because of myths and misconceptions. Therefore, we must also create an environment that respects the facts.

Be a fact checker. Clear up any misinformation or rumors with well-sourced information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).

Strength-based

Find what you’re good at and build on that. Since we are suffering through this together, we can all identify our individual roles based on our strengths.

A great example is the way we all managed to pull together while this pandemic forced us apart. We found the power of being socially connected, celebrating birthdays, milestones and regular family gatherings virtually.

As we move into this recovery phase, what ways will we discover to better our lives and those of everyone around us?

Non-linear

Not every day is going to be better than the one prior. Setbacks will occur, and you need to anticipate and plan for them. The goal is to grow and improve in this healing process over the long-haul.

The thing to remember is that setbacks are a completely natural part of the process.

Peer support

In helping our communities, we help ourselves. Support groups play an invaluable role. By sharing their experience, patients not only gain knowledge and skills in dealing with their illness, but gain a vital sense of belonging and a channel to express their emotions. While it can be intimidating to open up, ignoring your feelings may slow your recovery.

Focus on helping another. Participate in memorials or other public events. Remember the lives lost or broken and do your best to connect with others. This may help you overcome any feelings of helplessness, which can follow a tragedy.

Self-direction

Lead your own recovery. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you. Similarly, we must seek out what role we can play in supporting our peers, family and larger community.

And in the context of COVID-19, we can all take direct and effective actions, first, by getting the vaccine when it is offered to us, and, second, keeping up all of the safety protocols that have proven effective — washing your hands, wearing masks and social distancing.

Being individualized and person-centered

Based on your strengths, needs and background, you must design your own unique path to recovery. In addition to being the foundation for individual recovery, self-determination and self-direction enable us to exercise choice over services that support our recovery, as well as that of those around us and our entire community.

Empowerment

The recovery model emphasizes empowerment of patients suffering from chronic illnesses. You have the capacity to participate in all decisions that will affect your life. By making informed decisions, building on your strengths and taking responsibility, you can take control back over your life and help others do the same.

The draconian restrictions placed on our day-to-day lives may appear onerous and many have revolted against them with a cry for freedom. True empowerment in this crisis comes from getting an inventory of your assets, using them wisely and building more to manage the crisis. It also comes from gaining knowledge, and we have, throughout the crisis, learned more and more about the virus and how to control it.

Holistic

Recovery is not one thing. It considers all aspects of your life. Your access to housing, work, school, transportation, support systems, health care, faith, spirituality and social networks. And so, too, we must consider all aspects of a community and integrate the array of services and supports available.

Where there are less, make yourself a resource and help out however you can. Let’s find ways to not lose touch with any of these aspects of our life. The gifts of the pandemic have been awareness of our blessings and learning the importance of staying connected to each other. Small actions can make a big difference and even help you overcome feelings associated with ongoing stress. Whether you volunteer, donate blood or simply follow the CDC guidelines around COVID-19, being helpful and friendly to others can restore your sense of usefulness.

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