It is now Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday of miracles, where lamp oil for one day lasted for eight as the Maccabees reclaimed the holy Temple in Jerusalem from the Syrian-Greek invaders more than 2,000 years ago. The emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine Friday night by the Food and Drug Administration has the same miraculous feeling of a light at the end of the long and dark COVID-19 tunnel.
But with Christmas coming up in a few weeks, the holiday spirit that we all need is still lacking. We know it isn’t safe to huddle together in stores shopping for presents, or worse, in gatherings to share holiday cheer. We walk along the streets in our masks like zombies, barely talking or looking at each other.
America is depressed. Suicides and drug abuse are on the rise. Families are splintered. Too many of our children are separated from their friends. Social media and remote learning don’t take the place of face-to-face camaraderie.
A new Gallup poll reveals that Americans’ assessment of their own mental wellbeing is lower than at any time over the past 10 years.
Only 34% of Americans say their mental health is excellent, down from 43% just a year ago. I think these numbers just scratch the surface, because almost everyone has been impacted in some way by the stress and financial and medical uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. People’s lives everywhere have been disrupted.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in August revealed that there was a tripling of anxiety and a quadrupling of depression in over 5,000 adults surveyed now compared with a group from 2019.
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Substance abuse, including alcohol, is rising dramatically. Studies from Boston University School of Public Health and from Johns Hopkins University have found that symptoms of depression and psychological distress were triple those found in 2018.
Some of the people most effected have preexisting mental health problems, but this vulnerable group is far from the only ones affected.
The problem isn’t in the U.S. alone. A recent study from Japan, which has done a far better job controlling its COVID-19 outbreak than we have, showed that there have been more deaths in Japan from suicide in October alone than deaths from COVID-19 during the entire pandemic.
Here in the U.S., the sense of anxiety is almost palpable. Parents everywhere are heartbroken because their young children are forced to adapt to a sparse stay-at-home life.
Luckily, it seems that help is finally on the way, with the emergency use authorization authorized for the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Friday night. This holiday miracle (highly effective vaccine development at an unprecedented rate of speed) couldn’t be coming at a better time.
A recent Gallup poll revealed that now 63% of Americans are willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
It will take months to widely distribute this vaccine, so in the meantime, we must continue to wear our masks, wash our hands, physically distance and test for COVID-19 whenever we travel. We must resist our COVID fatigue and fears, and comply with a more uniform public health response in order to lessen the burden on our hospitals and our entire health care system.
But I do not feel we can cancel Christmas. We must be cautious, keep to very small groups of people we know, and avoid gatherings. We must limit travel and not live in denial of COVID.
But we can’t allow the Christmas Grinch to steal our hopes for a better and less-restricted future or our belief in miracles now in real-time. We must hang in there and not allow the Hanukkah candles to blow out.
Help is on the way.