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We’ve passed from April into May, and who among us isn’t wondering what the new month will bring?

In the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic and an abundance of mental health concerns, our nation is witnessing a pandemic that has brought worry, isolation, grief and economic hardship.

One way or another, COVID-19 has shaken all of us.

As bad as it has been, this pandemic will at some point abate and hopefully disappear. In its wake, we will be wiser about how to prepare for and respond to such disasters. But we will also be left with the aftermath — a tattered economy, and the toll on the mental health of millions of Americans.

Past disasters such as 9/11 and hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Wilma have taught us that the mental health consequences of these events remain long after the disasters are over. And COVID-19 is unlike those disasters, because it is still playing out and still preventing us from returning to something that resembles normality.

Many believe the behavioral health sequela will be consequential. To note just one voice, the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute reported last month that the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic impact of efforts to control it are expected to result in increases in mental health and substance use disorders, suicides, overdoses and incidents of violence, particularly domestic violence.

As we begin what is known as Mental Health Awareness Month, it is a good time to reflect on the importance of mental health, and the importance of rejecting negative perceptions often associated with mental illness. As advocates have said for so long, mental illnesses, like illnesses affecting our bodies, are just that — conditions that can be treated.

For anyone in Rhode Island who is in crisis with a mental health condition or substance use disorder, the best way to seek help is to visit or call BH LINK, the state’s one-stop 24/7 behavioral health triage/crisis center, at 414-LINK. BH Link has nurses, counselors, psychiatrists, peer specialists and case managers who can immediately help and connect people to the right care.

It’s also important to understand that we all have a role to play. For starters, we can treat mental health with the same urgency and empathy as other health issues. As Gov. Gina Raimondo said in a 2018 executive order, federal and state laws “require insurers to provide for behavioral health care under the same terms and conditions as physical health care.” We need to remember, as the governor noted, that there is more work to do on this front.

We can also help by taking care of ourselves — by being aware of our mental and emotional health and coping with crises like COVID-19 by having routines and daily schedules and tasks to accomplish. We can make sure we have needed medications and food, time for fun, and time to reach out to others, by phone or internet if not in person. We can embrace the reality that we are more resilient than we think. Often we think “I’m not going to be able to get through it,” and then we do.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identifies four dimensions of recovery: health, home, purpose and community. Together, they emphasize the importance of healthy choices, a safe and stable place to live, meaningful daily activities, and relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love and hope.

Hope is a basic and fundamental belief, and it calls us to action.

COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our lives, and many challenges lie ahead. That’s all the more reason to focus on the steps we can take — individually and together — to support the importance of mental health.

A. Kathryn Power is the acting director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

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