After the longest April in our history, there are talks about reopening the country. However, the fact remains that we are at war with something beyond our control.
The Coronavirus has taken so much from us all. Aside from the failing economy, the layoffs, and the unemployment numbers that continue to grow, and aside from the businesses that went under, and let us not forget the cancellation of normal everyday life; we have the cold stories of people dying alone in hospital rooms without a loved one in sight.
Nothing goes back to normal after something like this. Instead, we have to adjust and create a new normal together. Nevertheless, something like this will take time. This will take planning and attention to detail.
There are losses to account for. But more to the point, there is the mental emotional impact that cannot go unnoticed. There is the wake of heartbreak and despair.
There are the essential workers and the union employees; there is an entire medical field that has been pushed to exhaustion — not to mention the utility workers and the mass transit employees that suffered through these rough times. The list is long and can obviously go on from law enforcement to paramedics, to firefighters, to mail carriers and postal services; and especially to the store clerks that stocked our shelves and the truckers that drove our goods across the country. However, the question at hand is what do we do now?
No one has escaped the last few weeks untouched. Although, the loss factor varies from family to family, the fact remains that we are all in this together. We still have to rebuild. We have work to do and without unity, it seems the work in front of us will only be harder.
This is not a drill. The wounds are deeper than the idea of re-opening our country as if it were a convenience store that has been closed at an inconvenient time.
Aside from the need for economical rehabilitation, there is also an important need that frequently goes undiscussed. We can no longer deny the special need for mental and emotional stability.
Mental health and self-care is essential in our rebuild — especially now. It would be inaccurate to believe that in the wake of these times, there is no such thing as anxiety and depression.
Substance abuse and alcohol dependency is still very real. The same must be said about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the new phobias that await us as a society.
Who knows what the new normal will be?
However, there is strength in numbers. There is a benefit to our unity and furthermore; there is an undeniable need to focus on wellness as a whole.
Over the last few years, I have educated myself and acted as a mental health advocate. On top of my position as a Local 94 Operating Engineer, I have worked as a recovery specialist and opiate overdose responder at emergency rooms. I have been part of police initiatives and participated with programs to bring awareness to drug and alcohol to schools. After receiving the appropriate credentials, I created mental health empowerment groups at a homeless shelter and in the drug rehabilitation center of a Northern New Jersey County Jail.
To further earn my qualifications, I have also volunteered my time with different suicide prevention models. The most notable model was introduced to me as 22-Kill, which is a reference for the 22 veterans that commit suicide on a daily basis.
There is no way for us to deny mental anguish. As one of my mentors explains it, “We can’t ignore the elephant in the room anymore,” to which I agree.
If we are to rebuild from here then we have to rebuild together. This means there is a need for attention and the understanding of mental health.
There is an important need for mental health first aid.
This means in an effort to strengthen our workforce, we must educate our workforce to create a strong sense of synergy and cohesion.
Mental illness has already done its share of damage to our economy. Our potential earnings have suffered greatly to the amount of well over $200 billion per year. We lose days and manpower due to depression and anxiety. We lose lives to substance dependency. We suffer both at the production and the performance level. All of this has been clearly documented before the Coronavirus. Can you imagine what the statistics will be like now?
Therefore, now more than ever is the time for the unity of togetherness. The idea of reopening the country is more than opening the door to a convenience store. Now is the time to strengthen our forces and become union strong!
The days of the stigma and misconceptions about mental challenges need to pass. If we are to rebuild as a group then we need to educate ourselves.
We have to learn about the appropriate support and assistance models that can benefit others in times of crisis. The information is out there. We just need to share it.
We need to build our noticing skills and create a strategy to not only improve our performance in the workplace but to improve our quality of life overall.
To strengthen our unity, we have to set a comfortable process to have open conversations without shame or disgrace over mental challenges. Otherwise, the results can be deadly.
In full disclosure, during the days before the country’s shutdown; I was in the middle of my training to be a mental health first aid instructor.
My goal was to help others educate themselves and spread awareness on the struggles we face as a country. I had no idea how needed these services would be until now.
Same as understanding that knowing CPR does not mean one has a medical degree; mental health first aid operates under the same guidelines.
The main objective is to help someone in a crisis situation until the appropriate help arrives or until the crisis is alleviated.
However, the biggest different between the two is equally the most substantial. CPR is only used on rare and unfortunate occasions to help save a life. Mental health first aid on the other hand is used frequently and is equally as lifesaving.
In times like now, we are all facing the beginning of a challenge.
The only way through this is if we get there together!