Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mental health during COVID-19, some updates October 26, 2021

The message on this shirt references struggles with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IF ANYTHING POSITIVE has resulted from this still raging global pandemic of nearly two years, it’s a heightened awareness of mental health. Finally. Such awareness was long overdue, pandemic or not.

Now, in the context of the stress, anxiety, fear, isolation, depression and other health issues exasperated by living in a COVID-19 challenged world, we are thinking more about our mental health. From educators to healthcare professionals to parents to law enforcement to media. And if you say COVID hasn’t affected your mental health, I will question your truthfulness.

Yet, millions have struggled with mental health issues long before this virus turned life upside down. It’s just that all too often, we’ve closed our eyes and covered our ears to that reality. We’ve used unsavory words like “crazy” and other derogatory terms to label those battling mental illnesses. We’ve whispered and turned our backs and created stigmas. We’ve advised those struggling with depression or anxiety, for example, to simply get over it. As if that type of uncaring advice fixes anything.

Not that many years ago, treatment for mental illness was an add-on to health insurance policies. Unbelievable that individuals dealing with mental illnesses should be treated (or in this case not treated) differently than those dealing with heart attacks, cancer, broken bones… Thankfully that has changed, at least in policy. Still, the lack of mental healthcare options remains problematic, particularly in rural regions. Waits are long. Professionals few in number.


That’s why I get particularly excited when I read about plans like those of Children’s Minnesota to open an inpatient mental health center for children at its St. Paul hospital in late 2022. The center expects to treat upwards of 1,000 children annually. This past summer, Children’s opened a mental health day-program for teens in Lakeville.

All of this gives me hope. Hope that the youngest among us will get the early professional intervention and help they need. So many of our kids are struggling now, dealing with mental health issues brought on, or increased, by the pandemic.


Another new development also gives me hope. The Centers for Disease Control recently added mental health conditions to the list of underlying medical conditions associated with a higher risk for severe COVID-19. Now in and of itself, that is not good news. No one wants to hear that they are at increased risk for severe disease.

But the addition of mood disorders, including depression and schizophrenia spectrum disorders, to the medical conditions list now bumps those individuals into the high priority category for COVID vaccines. A study in New York found schizophrenia to be the second highest risk factor for COVID-related death, after older age. The possible explanation—immune system issues connected to the genetics of the disorder.

Beyond that, this move by the CDC now places mental health conditions (specifically certain mood disorders) on the same plane as other high risk conditions like diabetes, obesity, chronic lung disease, etc. For those struggling with mood disorders and those who love them, this is validating. This also moves us closer to erasing the stigma inked next to the words MENTAL ILLNESS.

I’m hopeful that, as we eventually work our way out of this pandemic, we remember the importance of mental health. I hope this is more than just today’s buzzword topic. I hope that we can, as individuals, offer compassion, support, encouragement and help. I hope we recognize mental health for what it is—health. Not something that should be hidden and ignored and stigmatized.

Photographed along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

FYI: The National Alliance on Mental Illness is an excellent resource for information, support, advocacy and more. Click here as a starting point for mental health information. If you or someone you care about is dealing with mental health struggles, please seek professional help. You are not alone. You are valued and loved.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “Mental health during COVID-19, some updates”

  1. beth Says:

    this is so hopeful

  2. Ruth Says:

    Such an important post about mental health, Audrey. The ongoing pandemic is taking a toll and you’re putting it out there to discuss is so necessary. People are uneasy to say the truth, even as they struggle. Wonderful there are increased services in your area. It can be difficult and overwhelming to find help.

  3. If there is a positive out of this pandemic it is the awareness of the need to address mental health – totally agree. The organization I work for advocates for mental health services as well as offers spiritual support services too. I recently read an article that the CEO of Target just made a significant donation for mental health. It is great to see a light shined on the need for mental health services and bringing it to the forefront to discuss. Thanks for sharing – Take Care.

    • Renee, thank you for mentioning also the spiritual support available. That’s another important component of mental health services. Thank you for being an important part of an organization involved in mental health.

  4. Norma Says:

    I wonder about the children who are taken to protests against the vaccine and other things by their parents. I have seen on the local news this is happening. Children carrying signs protesting and yelling along with the adults about things that they don’t really know about. How do these things really effect children?

    • I wonder the same, Norma. I’ve seen it right here in Faribault with a mom speaking at a local school board meeting and her young son standing beside her with an anti-masking sign. It made my heart hurt how this child was being used to push his mother’s agenda.

  5. Wonderful post, Audrey. ❤

  6. Valerie Says:

    The new mental health for children is such a positive thing…and a good start.

  7. Great news! That definitely deserves an !

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