Former first lady Michelle Obama revealed this week that, like many moms, she’s feeling the mental and emotional impacts of the coronavirus epidemic and the racial injustice in our society.
“I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression,” she said. “Not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife, and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting.”
Speaking on “High Ground: The Michelle Obama Podcast,” Obama said that sometimes she has trouble sleeping because of everything going on in the world.
“I’m worrying about something, or there’s a heaviness,” she said.
It’s a feeling that many people —especially women of color and mothers — share. A July poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53% of American adults say that worry and stress about the pandemic is having an impact on their health. That’s a steep increase from May, when just 39% of adults reported being mentally and emotionally impacted by the pandemic. The uncertainty and worry over school reopening is contributing to the concern, the poll found.
Like many of us, Obama said she has had to roll with the punches during the pandemic and quarantine. Sometimes, that has meant being ok with not being as productive as she normally would be.
“I’ve gone through those emotional highs and lows that I think everybody feels, where you just don’t feel yourself, and sometimes … there has been a week or so where I had to surrender to that, and not be so hard on myself,” she said.
In addition to coping with coronavirus, Obama has been closely following the frequent reports of racism and police brutality, as well as the lackluster response from the Trump administration.
“I have to say, that waking up to the news, waking up to how this administration has or has not responded, waking up to, yet another, story of a Black man or a Black person somehow being dehumanised, or hurt or killed, or, falsely accused of something, it is exhausting,” Obama said. “And, and it, it has led to a weight, that I haven’t felt in my life, in, in a while.”
She isn’t alone here. A survey by the U.S. Census Bureau has been tracking mental health throughout the pandemic. In the week after George Floyd’s murder, the number of Black Americans saying that they feel depressed or anxious rose from 37% to 41%. In the general U.S. population, only 11% of people experience anxiety or depression, according to survey data.
Despite how difficult this year has been, Obama said that her daughters, Malia, 22, and Sasha, 19, have benefitted from the pace of life slowing down.
“It’s almost like they needed the world to stop a little bit. You know they didn’t realize that they were, that the world they were on, and the way they were living it, was so treadmill-like. So fast and furious,” she said. “Um, because it was all they ever knew.”
With all four Obamas at home during quarantine, the family made an effort to all come together at the end of the work day, she said.
“Barack’s in his office, making calls, working on his book. I’m in my room, the girls are on their computers. But right around five o’clock, everybody comes out of their nooks, and, we like, do an activity, like, puzzles have become big, just just sitting and doing these thousand piece puzzles.”
Although this year has been full of turmoil, Obama said it’s a time for people to think about how they live.
“Decide how you want to show up in the new world,” she said. “Because it will be a new world.”