Looking Forward after Mental Health Awareness Month

by Rachael Flatt

We have just wrapped up the 2020 Mental Health Awareness Month. Typically, the focus on mental health begins to wane by the end of May, but this year feels different. With the ever-changing landscape during COVID-19, salient reminders of systemic racism, and the unique stressors during this time, mental health remains a high priority. Over the past several weeks as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, many members of the CEED team have done interviews, participated in webinars, and shared sentiments and emerging research about how COVID-19 has impacted those with eating disorders and their treatment, the increased risk for vulnerable populations (check out a New York Times article on athletes with eating disorders here), and how treatment providers can better reach underserved populations through telehealth. It’s been exciting to see communities and organizations embracing mental health education and research more than ever.

Rachael Flatt at UNC Chapel Hill’s Old Well

This past week, I helped facilitate a webinar with elite athletes and Olympic/Paralympic hopefuls as part of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s Mental Health Task Force. As part of our work, just as we do at CEED every day, we aim to best serve the population, address their needs, and create meaningful resources. Initially, we set out to get more information on what the Task Force can do better to address the athletes’ needs right now, especially considering how disruptive COVID has been for: 1) training, 2) Olympic and Paralympic qualifying events, and 3) physical and mental health care. However, instead of just gathering feedback on one particular resource or treatment gap, one of my biggest takeaways was how beneficial it was to discuss shared experiences and open up about current challenges and mental health concerns. That discussion promoted a sense of relief and support. We had a raw, open discussion about our experiences over the past several weeks and what we’ve noticed about our mental health. It was awe-inspiring to see individuals who have overcome so much and are some of the toughest athletes in the world be vulnerable. Personally, I left the webinar feeling immensely grateful and inspired to continue doing this work.

Even though Mental Health Awareness Month has ended, don’t end the conversation about eating disorders and mental health. This should be an ongoing discussion.  As we begin to transition out of shelter-at-home orders, it will take a significant amount of time for things to return to normal—or to adjust to whatever the new normal will be. It is important for us to remember to prioritize our mental and physical well-being and continue supporting each other as we make this transition together.