Like most of us, Sandra Harmon was a multifaceted individual. A working woman with a wide smile and devoted family, she was also haunted by health issues she could no longer hold at bay. On May 5, armed and drinking one last time, she drew a weapon on San Mateo County Sheriff’s deputies with predictable results.
Harmon died after a shootout on Half Moon Bay’s Main Street.
We will never know precisely what was happening in her head that evening, but we have clues that things weren’t connecting. There was the bottle of wine she had with her when confronted by deputies — this after what family says was years of sobriety. A witness said Harmon was babbling about a race war. We understand she took antidepressants and was seeing a psychiatrist.
We don’t know, but we can guess, that the current pandemic would be particularly hard on someone like Harmon, a woman plagued by demons that took up residence in her darkest places.
She might have felt alone in her last moments on a Half Moon Bay street, but many of us are feeling the weight of the moment. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that about half of Americans reported the coronavirus has had a deleterious effect on their mental health — and results were even worse for women as a subset.
Kristen Choi, an expert in trauma and mental health at the UCLA School of Nursing warned last week of a “second pandemic,” a wave of depression, anxiety and other mental health maladies. One indication of the problem can be found in the crowds drawn to online resources. A free web course in psychological first aid, hosted by Johns Hopkins University professor George Everly Jr., usually attracts 300 or 400 students a week, according to the Poynter Institute, which said that by the first week in April 11,000 people a week were tuning in to learn how to cope.
Remember: Americans were struggling with worsening mental health issues long before COVID-19. The American Psychological Association last year warned of startling suicide rates that were up 50 percent for girls and women between 2000 and 2016. Before 33 million Americans lost their jobs — calamities that also cost millions their health care — suicide was the second-leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34.
May happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month, which has been observed in this country for 71 years. Mental Health America, which leads the cause, offers an online toolkit that everyone should keep at their disposal. It offers tips for finding the positive, eliminating toxic influences and creating healthy routines, among other potentially life-saving skills.
There was a time when mental health issues carried stigma. No more. One in five of us struggle at some point in our lives. May there be help for us when we find ourselves in the kind of darkness that enveloped Sandra Harmon.
— Clay Lambert