Everyone’s world changed in March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns transformed every aspect of daily life. We were faced with an invisible danger that was a mystery to even the most astute scientists. New information was coming out every day, adding to an ever-changing web of details that could change at any time. Right when we started to gain our footing, we lost it again.
A Collective Trauma
We worried constantly about getting sick and infecting others. Many of us lost people close to us due to this virus or unrelated causes, yet we could not properly say goodbye to them. Schools and workplaces closed down, leaving us to navigate the brave new world of video calls. Businesses were forced to close, some of them temporarily, others permanently. Things we once took for granted, like going to the grocery store or visiting our grandparents, were suddenly unreachable. We were isolated from everything important to us and inundated with bad news.
Fortunately, life looks different now. While the scars of COVID-19 are very much still present, the lonely lockdowns of those first few months are behind us, and we know increasingly more about the infection that shut down the world. We have learned how to keep ourselves and others safe and are beginning to move forward.
Relationship Between COVID-19 and Mental Health
The pandemic has had a broad swath of effects that still linger. One of these has to do with mental health. As people faced more stress during the pandemic, mental health issues soared. Anxiety and uncertainty about the virus itself, loneliness and isolation from social distancing, grief upon losing a loved one, despair concerning economic devastation, and the upheaval of routine and normalcy all factored into an uptick in mental distress.
People who had never struggled with their mental health suddenly found themselves grappling with depression and anxiety. In fact, in the first year of the pandemic alone, rates of depression and anxiety skyrocketed across the world. During this time period, there was a 25% increase in the prevalence of these conditions. A group at particular risk of developing a mental health condition was those living with a chronic physical health condition. For example, individuals living with cancer were more prone to the onset of a mental health disorder.
Those with a history of mental health conditions were confronted with a variety of new triggers and less access to helpful resources. Research also suggests that individuals living with a mental health condition were more likely to suffer more severe consequences of COVID-19. These individuals were more frequently hospitalized and had a higher risk of death. Furthermore, there was a correlation between the severity of the mental health condition and the severity of infection.
Substance Use as a Consequence of the Pandemic
This same trend can be seen in those living with substance use disorder (SUD). A study analyzing data from 73 million people across the United States demonstrated that addiction was a risk factor for contracting COVID-19. In this study’s sample, individuals living with SUD only formed 10.3% of patients. Even so, they represented 15.6% of those that had contracted COVID-19. Individuals with any history of substance abuse, even if they were not in active addiction, faced almost twice the risk of contracting it. Unfortunately, substance abuse was also correlated with worse health outcomes upon infection.
Just as addiction worsened the outcomes of COVID-19 patients, COVID-19 had a detrimental impact on those living with substance use disorder. In 2020, 93,000 people died from overdoses. This number makes 2020 the most deadly year for overdoses, setting the record for most fatal overdoses within a 12-month period. While there is no concrete evidence to confirm this, the pandemic may have contributed to a greater prevalence of SUD. Risk factors like stress and mental health conditions increase an individual’s likelihood of developing addiction, and the pandemic certainly increased those risk factors. Additionally, drug screenings conducted by medical professionals have revealed an increase in substance use.
The Treatment Landscape After COVID-19
While we were trying to fight a physical illness, we were collectively struggling with a mental health epidemic as well. With the sudden surge in mental health disorders, there was a corresponding increase in the need for services. This demand far outpaced supply, leaving many without the care they needed. Individuals who had been relying on services suddenly could not see their providers and seeking a mental health professional as a new patient meant competing for limited spots and being confronted with the dreaded waitlist. Changes in economic resources as a result of sudden unemployment may have affected the ability to access services for many people.
If there is a silver lining that can be identified in all this, it is the rise of telehealth. Telehealth, or telemedicine, had been in use before the pandemic, but not nearly to the extent it is utilized today. While not a perfect solution, it allows people to access a limited array of medical services from the safety of their homes. A doctor cannot listen to your heart or examine your throat, but this delivery method has worked especially well for therapy. While slow internet and camera troubles can provide some roadblocks to the process, telehealth facilitates the connection between client and practitioner.
Telehealth seems to be here to stay, and there are benefits beyond the pandemic. It allows access to care for those without reliable transportation or who have disabilities that make it difficult to leave the house. Additionally, it is suited for rural populations who do not have services in their proximity and who often have limited access to healthcare.
If you are still reeling from the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone. Whether you became critically ill, lost a loved one, became unemployed, or just felt incredibly isolated during the lockdowns, you may have some lingering emotional and mental effects. Many people had their first encounters with mental health distress and had to adjust to that in addition to the “new normal.” Other people struggled with an exacerbation of an already existing condition. No matter which group you belong to, ask for help. This global crisis has required mental health professionals to step up, and you need a treatment team that will rise to the challenge. Family-Centered Services is prepared to help individuals and families meet their addiction recovery goals. Our licensed clinicians offer individual and family therapy, a Family Recovery Program, and comprehensive case management. Call (509) 991-5822 today to get started.