Miserable. If I had to think of one adjective to describe the impacts of COVID-19, it would be miserable. With everything we as a nation have encountered these past six months — quarantine, a heightened intensity of the Black Lives Matter movement and a divisive presidential election — you would think we’ve reached our collective breaking point. Yet, for many of us, personal events have brought an additional source of despair in this already discouraging time. 

Recently, Fox Sports 1’s Skip Bayless criticized Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for publicizing his emotions following his brother’s suicide in April. Prescott said that he “experienced emotions he’d never felt before” during the period of isolation, including “anxiety and depression.” Bayless responded by stating that he doesn’t “have sympathy” for Prescott’s depression as “the quarterback of America’s Team.” He emphasized that a quarterback shouldn’t show signs of “weakness” because it hinders his credibility as a leader.

People eventually die, yes. It is the most inevitable outcome in life, right alongside taxes. However, suicide is perhaps the most unexpected cause. One person takes their life every 40 seconds, yet few people can pinpoint warning signs, making it an extremely traumatic event to process. 

Personally, I am shocked at the senselessness of Bayless’s judgement. Mental illness cannot be controlled with a switch; it doesn’t instantly shift from on to off. It’s uncontrollable — Prescott can’t choose whether or not he has it. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are roughly 16.1 million other Americans who suffer from depression as well.

Additionally, individuals internalize grief differently. What if Prescott opening up in an interview facilitates his recovery? Maybe he’s finally reached the acceptance stage in his grieving process. Bayless, on the other hand, has yet to even learn the psychology behind it. 

Not to mention, Prescott speaking up about a “taboo” subject makes him  a stronger leader. The action itself can inspire others to use their voices. I imagine Prescott’s teammates are ready to run through a wall for him and may confide in him before other players. When a support network is created through an emotional circumstance, especially at a poignant time, it creates unbreakable unity.

As much as some of us would like to categorize how we feel solely as “pandemic-related depression,” we cannot. These days, it is nearly impossible to separate the causes of our internal emotional status. Someone can simultaneously be anxious about contracting the virus and saddened by forced isolation from others. Worse yet, the two distinct emotions can be strikingly similar. Now, add the impact of a family member’s death. That burden bears exponentially more weight.

In our society, there are too many individuals who fail to understand both the seriousness of depression and lack the ability  to sympathize with those affected by the illness. Bayless could have publicly apologized the next day on his show and emphasized that he made a grave error in judgement. But he didn’t. How apathetic can a person be before they realize the extent of their words?

I believe we, as humans, are compassionate at our core. Even though we don’t always show it, we always contain the ability to help others. We want to counsel those who are grieving, by lessening their isolation and thus easing their pain. Why should we settle for anything less?

In this current time especially, we have to be proactive in assisting those with mental illness. We cannot idly stand by, watching them become worse while knowing we can help. Instead, we must ask ourselves — and others — how we can facilitate aid. For those of us who are unsure of how to do so, we can start by educating ourselves. We don’t need to be heroes, but even a small, concentrated effort can make a big difference. 

When COVID-19 reaches its conclusion, I hope that people realize the power of altruism to produce good in this world. This selflessness can come in many forms, but it is required. The ability to sympathize with and comfort those in pain will be different for everyone. Regardless, providing emotional support is a task we are more than capable of accomplishing. 

If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “HELLO” to 741741.

Sam Woiteshek can be reached at swoitesh@umich.edu.

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