Pandemic-related Mental Health Issues: The Next Epidemic?

Mar 09, 2021 14:18:14PM
It is becoming clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a significant role in increasing levels of mental health-related issues worldwide. Fear related to the virus itself, social isolation, economic insecurity and an overall upending of society’s daily routine have shined a light on numerous behavioral health concerns such as anxiety, depression, substance use and suicide. At this point, many are wondering if these pandemic-related issues will lead to an ongoing public health crisis. 

Reasons for a Spike in Mental Health Issues 

a woman talking with a doctor

Americans began to see a negative impact on various mental health issues early in the pandemic. 

According to data collected in a poll last March by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly one-third of American adults reported feeling that the state of their mental health took a hit from worry associated with the pandemic. 
Just four months later, a whopping 53% reported the same. Surveys conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in June reported that more than 40% of Americans attributed at least one mental or behavioral condition to the pandemic. 

There are numerous factors that are likely impacting the emotional states of a significant number of people in this country and around the world. Social isolation and loneliness resulting from the new normal of social distancing requirements are major issues that contributed to decreased overall wellness. Much research has shown a connection between these constructs and physical and mental health. 

Large segments of the population have experienced job loss and income insecurity since the inception of the pandemic. Money worries are bound to have a negative impact on mental state. 

Another cause of concern for professionals is a rise in domestic violence and child abuse. People are stuck at home together for long amounts of time, which could allow tensions to mount. Access to professional resources found outside the home such as teachers, counselors and social supports has been removed or is more difficult to obtain. Various other stressors associated with the pandemic could also have added to the rise of such incidents. 

Populations Most Affected

a young girl with depression in a therapy session

The coronavirus pandemic has had a tremendous impact across the world’s populations. Some groups are feeling the burden more than others. Young adults are reporting a significant increase in an assortment of issues such as sleep disruption, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. This could be due to disruptions in school or work routines. 

As noted in a CDC survey from June of 2020, 25% percent of young adult participants reported new or increased substance abuse, compared with 13% of older adults. A more stark contrast of 26% of younger participants admitted to thoughts of suicide in comparison with only 11% of all adults. 

Research shows that communities of color are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic, both in cases of the virus itself and in associated mental health concerns. The damage is compounded when you factor in the fact that Black and Latino communities are less likely to receive needed behavioral health services than members of the general population. In addition, these populations are at increased risk for many of the underlying health conditions that contribute to severity of symptoms in cases of COVID-19. Not to mention the fact that many from these groups are employed in public-facing and lower-paid essential worker positions within the service industry. 

Essential workers of all sorts are carrying a tremendous burden with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since frontline workers must be in contact with potentially or known infected individuals, they aren’t able to practice precautions like social distancing. Thus, they tend to be more worried about their health and the health of those they live with. 

The Kaiser Family Foundation found that frontline workers were far more likely to be susceptible to a number of issues such as substance use, anxiety or depressive disorder and thoughts of suicide. Healthcare workers are often facing compounded stress because they see the damage the virus does firsthand. 

Ways to Address This Crisis

a woman reaching out to comfort a friend

COVID-19 has placed a spotlight on an already troubled mental health landscape. A variety of reports and studies have been conducted throughout the pandemic in order to address the ongoing mental health needs of the general population and groups most at risk. The government has set aside funding for mental health services through stimulus bills like the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Efforts are being made to help groups such as veterans and certain subsets of younger populations. These efforts have focused on the need to expand telehealth and other such remote care services in order to reach the populations most at-risk during this time. 

It’s likely that the effects of the virus on mental health will continue for years to come. One study, for example, indicates that the psychological distress people are experiencing now could be felt far into the foreseeable future. Therefore, additional efforts will need to be put in place to continue the work that is already being done to reach the most vulnerable populations. 

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