“Trends have been emerging that show a new landscape of
emotional and mental approaches in the face of challenges not
seen by humanity in generations.”
By Professor Gerry Bodeker, Chair, Mental Wellness Initiative of the
Global Wellness Institute
COVID-19 has challenged the world in so many ways and mental health is high on the list of areas of our lives that have been impacted.
At the height of China’s outbreak, more than a third of people around the country experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia or acute stress, according to a survey of over 52,000 people from 36 provinces by researchers at Shanghai Mental Health Center, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine.
Young people were also affected. Research in China published last year found that among Chinese adolescents during the pandemic, 38% reported problems with insomnia, almost half (48.2%) reported experiencing depression and 37% reported having anxiety symptoms. Young people who experienced insomnia, depression and anxiety together were more likely to be female, left-behind children, and students with greater COVID-fear.
In the US during the pandemic, about four in ten adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, up from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms in the previous year.
These trends have led the World Health Organization to speak of a second COVID pandemic – a mental health pandemic.
In the world of wellness, the focus is on optimizing health and wellbeing and on taking care of our own wellness pathways. Here, trends have been emerging that show a new landscape of emotional and mental approaches to ensuring that we stay strong, resilient, empathic and balanced in the face of challenges not seen by humanity in generations. Our team in the Mental Wellness Initiative of the Global Wellness Institute has worked together to identify the ten leading trends in 2021 relating to enhancing mental wellbeing during the time of COVID. Here’s what we have found:
1. Self-care. This has become legitimized during the time of COVID and is now seen by policy makers, the media and society as a top priority in mental wellness – we are responsible for our own mental wellbeing and everyone should make this a front burner priority.
2. Connection with others. From more family time, to time reconnecting as well as prioritizing fitness as a means of making new friends and expanding one’s social circle, connectedness – in this time of safety-driven seclusion – is a huge imperative globally.
3. Connection with Nature. Once again, connecting with our source – Nature – emerges in the top three trends in mental wellness. Perhaps more than ever, as people focus on their personal wellbeing, exercising in parks and woodland and by the beach have become vital means of restoring wellbeing and stepping out of the sense of confinement and stress that has accompanied the necessary public health measures of the pandemic.
4. Cultural inclusivity and connectedness. The focus on this in the US has rippled around the world with the recognition that the mental health and wellness of minority groups, and individual members of these, and of the wider society, are based on the requirement for society to take steps to embrace diversity and ensure safety for all sectors of society.
5. Corporate recognition of the importance of mental wellness, from the burgeoning business of mental wellness apps, to investors moving significantly into the mental wellness space, corporate mental wellness programs becoming mainstream, pharmacy chains such as CVS offering mental wellness services at the pharmacy level. Everywhere, the world of business recognises the importance of mental wellness and is investing and innovating and reaching out.
6. Safety and security: Safety from COVID transmission, safety from violence/harm, safety to be seen/heard, including the security needs of minority populations exposed to violence stemming from racial, religious or ethnic affiliations.
7. Faith: Belief in a higher power and purpose that reframes meaning and meaning-making – a central premise to having a sense of belonging.
8. Accessibility of mental health and wellness intel and therapy and a reduction in stigma towards mental health and illness issues. This includes digital media and a sizeable expansion in mental telehealth and wellness investment and a start-up boom.
9. Plant-based nutrition. The global pandemic and lockdowns have resulted in many consumers reassessing what they eat and their impact on the planet as well as recognizing that healthy nutrition and mental wellness are closely linked. By the summer of 2020, plant-based food sales in the US had more than doubled. If researchers are right, there will be a 98 percent rise in vegans compared to this time last year.
10. “Sawubona” – a greeting that is used in Zulu culture that means “I see you” as a practice of recognizing and acknowledging the value and worth in others; promoting inclusion and acceptance.
A nationwide survey of psychological distress among Chinese people in the COVID-19 epidemic: implications and policy recommendations | General Psychiatry (bmj.com)
Mental health problems among Chinese adolescents during the COVID-19: The importance of nutrition and physical activity | International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology (elsevier.es)
A Harvard-trained public health academic, Gerry Bodeker researches and advises on integrative medicine and wellness. He has taught in medical sciences at Oxford University for two decades, is adjunct professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, and works with the private sector, governments and the United Nations, advising on culturally-themed wellness strategies. Prof Bodeker chairs the Mental Wellness Initiative of the Global Wellness Institute. His research has focused on Asian traditions of medicine and healthy lifestyles, including the study of Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Prof Bodeker has published widely and has two books due out by the end of 2021 on the theme of wellness in Asia, one with the Asian Development Bank and one on Healthy Ageing in Asia with Taylor & Francis in the US.