Without a doubt COVID has ruined holidays, vacations, and the joy of embracing your loved ones at the end of a long workday. It has created minimal boundaries around work-life balance, and it has intentionally tested your inner gangsta if you have kiddos at home. Nevertheless, COVID has gifted us the opportunity to process taboo topics that would otherwise get tossed under the rug. Nope, we’re not talking about your lateness problem that can no longer be explained away by traffic. (Guilty!) We’re talking about mental health and substance misuse.

Studies in 2020 have shown that mental health has worsened among all age groups due to numerous internal and external factors. It is important to note that while COVID came along and made those factors more evident, those factors were always giants in our lives, especially for minority communities. Historically, minority communities have experienced anxiety and depression, often untreated, due to systematic racism and police brutality. COVID exacerbated these challenges in that it widened the health disparity gap between minority groups and their counterparts and limited the access and availability of treatment. Unfortunately, they are not alone. According to studies, in late June 2020, 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use. The data indicates that individuals were self-medicating to cope with their heightened mental health challenges. The data collected by the Anne Arundel County Police Department demonstrates that self-medicating is just as unbiased and disastrous as COVID. Since the start of the pandemic, we have experienced an increase in substance misuse, particularly opioid related overdoses and fatalities. In the words of rapper Cardi B, “it’s getting real”, because we are being forced to reckon with the stigmas we have reinforced, the skeletons we have in our closet and the tremendous obligation to expose our fears to heal our community.

There is no doubt that COVID has caused an overwhelming sense of hopelessness with the unforeseen deaths of loved ones. However, COVID has made it within our reach to access educational tools and community resources to mobilize each other into this hopeful truth: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Chelsea Neil
Opioid Misuse Prevention Program Coordinator
Anne Arundel County Department of Health