Covid-19's worst casualty is mental health

Keeping psychological toll of the pandemic at the backburner will cost us dearly

By Alexandra Helfer

Published: Tue 15 Dec 2020, 2:54 PM

Typically, the holiday season means end-of-the-year corporate parties, family gatherings, and festive get-togethers with friends. But the holidays in 2020 will look very different. People are being encouraged to stick to their “Covid pods” and embrace more intimate gatherings, with virtual parties sprinkled in. The year has presented a host of challenges, and there is a grave concern for what the mental health effects on our society are going to look like in a post-Covid era.

Substance use disorders

One outcome of Coronavirus-related stress is the accelerated use of drugs and alcohol. Reports released throughout the year have highlighted how the pandemic has intensified America’s substance use so far. Between February and March, there was a 34 per cent increase in prescriptions for benzodiazepines, a class of potentially habit-forming drugs, such as Xanax, used to treat anxiety.

Alcohol consumption in the face of mounting concerns has likewise climbed and will most likely continue post-pandemic. Last but not least, the opioid crisis continues to burden Americans and shows no signs of slowing down during the coronavirus outbreak. This year, at least 40 states have seen an uptick in the number of opioid overdose fatalities.

Left unchecked, these trends are likely to continue years from now, and lead to a dramatic increase in the number of people who struggle with addiction.

OCD and other mood disorders

Because the mental health crisis created by the current coronavirus outbreak will persist for years post-pandemic, society can also expect to see an increase in anxiety disorders, especially Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Fear of catching a deadly virus through other people’s germs has exacerbated OCD symptoms in those who have been previously diagnosed with the illness. A Journal of Anxiety Disorders study of 394 individuals with OCD revealed that 72 per cent of participants experienced heightened symptoms during the Covid-19 crisis. The virus has additionally created OCD symptoms in many who have other preexisting anxiety diagnoses or are prone to suffering from stress.

Mental health and younger people

Covid-19’s damage to our collective psyche has not been limited to adults. This is also uncharted territory for children and adolescents, who may have trouble processing the events of the past year. A CDC report found that mental health-related visits to emergency departments between April and October 2020 increased 24 per cent among children aged 5-11 and 31 per cent among children between the ages of 12 and 17.

Similarly, it is predicted that children will experience a greater onset of anxiety disorders and worsening of social anxiety disorders specifically when they are able to gather in person again. There are children who have not been allowed to see their friends since the pandemic started, and even younger ones who have yet to meet another child or human outside of their quarantine bubble.

Insufficient funding for behavioural health services

The current healthcare system does not treat mental health needs the same as medical needs; there is pay disparity, coverage disparity, and more restrictions on the authorisation of services for mental health than medical needs. It will be difficult to treat what is expected to be an overwhelming mental health crisis post-pandemic when the cost of any decent insurance continues to go up for the members on an annual basis and reimbursement rates for providers continue to go down. With the impending mental health crisis we face, it is worrying that some states have already made cutbacks in their mental health departments.

The pandemic has been an unprecedented time for all. Post-pandemic will also be unprecedented, and our healthcare system, as it stands now, is not adequately prepared to deal with the enduring mental health effects.

— Psychology Today

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