This post was written by Dr. Octavio N. Martinez Jr., executive director for the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, and was originally published by Grantmakers In Health.

How can something so small, naked to the human eye, cause so much grief? The culprit is a virus, SARS-CoV-2, and the disease COVID-19. The grief grows day by day around the world as people get sick and as people die. The virus does not discriminate and it knows no boundaries. It doesn’t care if you are Black or White, Hispanic or Protestant, live in North Carolina or Texas. It does care if you are human, a host to exploit, and it needs us to replicate. However, the amount of morbidity and mortality it inflicts depends on us. How we treat and respect each other are critical variables in how COVID-19 impacts us.

COVID-19 is unmasking our shortcomings, gaps, disinvestments, disparities, inequities, and discrimination towards each other. Because COVID-19 is now so pervasive, this unmasking is playing out in multiple arenas simultaneously. One of the major ones is behavioral health. In truth, the United States of America was not doing all that well in taking care of our behavioral health issues before COVID-19. For example, according to Health Affairs, one in every eight visits to an emergency department is due to individuals with mental health and substance use disorders (Laderman et al. 2018); and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, untreated mental illness costs the United States approximately $300 billion annually in lost productivity (Sperling 2018). Even more disturbing are the statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which showed a more than 30 percent increase in suicide rates in 25 states since 1999 (CDC 2018). Read more.