In 2019, 1 in 10 adults reported feeling symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorders — from troubling thoughts to persistent dread, sleeplessness and more. Fast forward to 2021 and this number is now closer to 4 in 10.

You can probably guess why.

Over the last year and a half, the world witnessed a slow-moving catastrophe with no clear end in sight. The global pandemic — and all the fear, burnout and uncertainty that came with it — reshaped the way we think, feel and interact with each other. It could be years before we understand its long-term impacts, but one thing is clear: America is facing a new type of health crisis.

People who never experienced anxiety or depression before the pandemic found themselves struggling on a regular basis — and many still do. As the months went on and the symptoms set in, they waited out the lockdowns and quarantines, hoping their feelings would pass once it was all over. But as restrictions slowly lifted, they didn’t feel the sense of relief they’d hoped for.

Faced with the isolation, boredom and hopelessness of the pandemic — and unsure how to get help — Americans turned to make-shift ways to cope. Unable to leave the house, we put healthy routines on hold and started drinking more alcohol. TV marathons became an everyday event. And we started “doomscrolling” — refreshing our phones for the latest bad news whenever we got the chance.

But a few of the habits we picked up in 2020 were actually good for our wellbeing. Some of us found ways to channel our creativity through art, cooking and music. Others discovered a love for the outdoors. We volunteered. We made time for ourselves. And most importantly—we opened up to each other.

Through Zoom calls, text messages and social media, we shared our struggles, our hopes and our support. We talked honestly about our state of mind and our deepest worries. And in the process, we discovered that we share more in common than we think.

Since the time the coronavirus first made headlines, almost all of us have witnessed first-hand the effects of a mental health disorder. But while many got professional help, others, for a variety of reasons, haven’t taken the first step to getting treatment — whether that’s counseling, medication or a mix of both.

The good habits we picked up last year can play a role in helping us heal and grow stronger in the months and years to come. By continuing to keep the conversation around our wellbeing going, we can encourage ourselves, our friends and our families to get treatment.

We also have the chance to change the way we talk about these issues for good — to normalize them and treat them just like any other health condition. One way to do that is by reframing mental illness as a brain health disorder.

According to Brain Health Iowa, viewing mental illness through the lens of brain health helps us recognize that these have a biological and neurological basis, and importantly, that they are often successfully treated.

The view that brain health disorders are a character flaw or personal weaknesses is, thankfully, coming to an end. But to face this new crisis head on, we have to recognize that our bodies and brains will never be perfect.

We get sick. We break bones. And sometimes, our feelings break our spirits. We wouldn’t expect a friend who broke their leg to heal without a cast — so why do we put so much pressure on ourselves to “tough out” some of the most difficult and complex health challenges we can face as humans?

Every day, life moves a little closer to what it once was, but that doesn’t mean we will magically return to our old selves. The struggles will continue, and that’s OK. Most brain health disorders don’t have a quick fix — but all good things take time.

If you or someone you know is facing a brain health challenge, the time to get help is right now. Your brain health IS your health. It IS a priority. And it CAN be treated! Mental Health/ Disability Services of East Central Iowa helps you find treatment providers close to you. Visit their website brainhealthtips.org to find resources that support your mental wellbeing, learn more about brain health and find treatment near you.