Let’s Talk About It: Breaking the Stigma with Molly Daniels

Monday, April 18, 2022

Now that kids have returned to school, grocery stores are stocked, and the world begins to open, we feel the pressure to move forward. But what does it mean to move forward? The traumas of the last two years don’t disappear because mask mandates have lifted.

Studies have shown the COVID pandemic has delivered a mental health crisis to our front doors:

  • More than 4 in 10 teens report feeling "persistently sad or hopeless" during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 1 in 5 adults report experiencing symptoms of depression each year.
  • 6 in 10 adults do not receive treatment for mental health conditions, often out of fear that others will judge them.  

As we collectively work to heal from the past two years, we can all play a role in ending the stigma around mental health.

To begin this conversation, we spoke with Molly Daniels, Premera’s Social Impact Program Specialist. Daniels shared her experience as a mother during the pandemic and how the Premera Social Impact team works to end the stigma that surrounds mental health.

Tell us how your life changed during the pandemic and how it impacted your mental health?

Mental health is ingrained in every part of our lives. Two years ago, when our lives changed in a way no one would have ever imagined, it felt like the world came to a crashing halt. I remember feeling so many emotions -- worry for my family and friends, stress about suddenly needing to homeschool four kids while working a full-time job, anxiety that my husband would lose his job, and despair watching the death counts rise day after day. We were told it would be a few weeks, then it was a few more weeks, which turned into months … and the list goes on.

As a parent I stressed about my kids being home and me having to teach them. Questions endlessly swirled through my mind. I’m not a teacher, so how can I be expected to teach four kids at four different levels anything at all, let alone while working full time? How will my child with autism manage without receiving her IEP (Individualized Education Plan) services and therapies?  Will I lose my job because my priority had to shift to focus to my family?

I was so embarrassed when I would sit in a Microsoft Teams meeting and one of my kids would burst into the room crying because their sibling was being mean. I questioned everything in my life during this time. Was I good enough? Was I going to be able to do this? Was I going to make it through the day? It became a joke in our house because I was known for saying, “I just have to make it through the next 10 minutes,” or the next hour, or the next meeting. It felt like life was no longer about reaching all my dreams and aspirations; it became about survival.

How did the pandemic impact the mental health of those in your family?

I’ve watched my oldest child grow from a seventh grader worried about lunchroom gossip to a freshman in high school who is scared to be there. He has worries no child his age should bear. He is now deeply concerned about the mental wellbeing of his classmates. His anxiety levels have become so high, he needs to be in almost constant contact with me via text. I’ve heard dozens of stories about his friends cutting themselves to feel some sort of control in this world that is out of control. My 15-year-old has been exposed to more trauma in the last two years than many of us would hope to in our lifetime.

And teens aren’t the only ones. My youngest was in kindergarten when the pandemic started.  He didn’t understand why he had to leave his classmates, his friends, his teacher, and his routine. He is now in second grade, and the common theme of conferences is “these kids don’t know how to be students. They don’t know how to sit still, listen, and learn.” He is two grade levels behind in reading and doesn’t know how to play appropriately on the playground. He asks regularly when school will be shut down again and worries that his friends are dying when they are out sick.

How is your work in Premera’s Social Impact program addressing the stigma surrounding mental health?

When Premera began its Social Impact program in 2017, it was an opportunity to reimagine our commitment to social responsibility and be intentional about how we serve our community. Mental health problems continue to have a significant impact on the communities that we serve and access to care is reaching crisis levels. We know there are no simple solutions. These are tough problems that require new thinking to make progress. That is why Premera has committed to invest in organizations providing services and treatment to those who have been impacted by mental health. Through our community partners we can make mental health services more broadly available, break down  barriers to care, and normalize conversations about mental health struggles.

Do you know an organization working in the mental health space that would benefit from a Premera Social Impact grant?

Apply for a Social Impact grant here!

View the Social Impact report here

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