Credit: George Danby

The coronavirus pandemic has already disrupted many aspects of our lives, creating unprecedented challenges and financial instability for our families. As our response to this pandemic continues, there are impacts not only on our physical and our financial health, but this is taking a toll on everyone mentally as well.

During times like these, it is common for anxiety to run high. While this may be a new experience for many, for nearly 50 million Americans, anxiety is not a new experience but it is a serious mental health challenge they battle every day.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates more than 31 percent of American adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. An estimated 18 million Americans experience major depressive episodes each year. In the United States, suicide rates have been climbing, and are highest among white, middle-aged men.

So why do we find it so difficult to discuss mental health?

Stigma and fear.

With 1 in 5 American adults experiencing some type of mental illness in any given year, each of us knows someone who has an experience addressing their mental health. Perhaps a family member, a friend, a co-worker or even ourselves. It is an unavoidable part of life.

Mental health is as fundamental as physical health, and especially in times like these, we should support one another and make sure that the necessary resources are available to those who need them.

At the start of my campaign for U.S. Congress, a prominent person encouraged me not to run for office because the campaign would get “too brutal” and take too great a mental toll. He also knew that I had times in my past when I have struggled with anxiety and my personal mental health. I am thankful that I had the support of so many around me, that I have a relationship with God and my Christian faith community, and resilience that I have built up throughout my life.

We must make sure that all Americans have access to the support they need to face the various tests in their lives. Now, with COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order in place for nearly two months, Mainers’ livelihoods are impacted in ways we haven’t begun to understand. Beyond the financial hardships many families are enduring, the mental fatigue will become unbearable for some.

We have seen the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on our veterans returning from the neverending wars in the Middle East, and the unacceptable climbing rates of suicide among our veteran population. We know we can do better to care for our own.

It begins by talking about it. We must do more to ensure Americans have access to mental health resources.

Our past shapes our future, but it does not define it. That bears repeating — we are not defined by our past. Many Mainers share challenges that are not just financial in nature.

My upbringing in rural Maine was rugged. No indoor plumbing meant we had the daily chore of lugging jugs of water from the neighbors. Our wood stove needed to be fed, so I learned to split and stack wood. Money was tight. Bullying at school was merciless. But there were people in my life who gave me the support I needed to persevere. I have been blessed with those same people at each challenge in my life, and those early struggles helped get me through.

Like many of you, I have experienced personal and professional setbacks in my life and in those times, I have leaned on support from others. This is not a weakness, it is a strength.

My story is not remarkable. It is shared by so many Mainers. Since launching my campaign for Congress in October, I have added more than 18,000 miles to my car and I have met thousands of Mainers, from Madawaska to Machias, Lubec to Lewiston, and the many small towns and communities in between. Many Mainers have shared similar struggles with me. Their stories reflect our common experience and the resilience of our people.

Our members of Congress must fight for every American, and I plan to fight for every Mainer. We must ensure access to care, adequate provider networks and availability of mental health resources to meet the needs of Mainers.

We cannot allow stigma and fear to silence voices, and in Congress I won’t let that happen.

Adrienne Bennett is a Republican candidate for Congress in Maine’s 2nd District.