This past week, a research study conducted by the Well Being Trust, a national foundation with a mission to advance mental health in America, has estimated that as many as 75,000 Americans could die from mental health related issues that stem from the coronavirus pandemic. The research study used projected unemployment rates and economic modeling to make its projections. History has shown, as recently as the 2008 financial crisis, that suicide and drug overdose rises in tandem with the unemployment rate. Similarly, research within the field of behavioral finance demonstrates a similar correlation. While many Americans are aware of the current increase in mental health related issues, the numbers put out by this study may be a wake-up call to many. Mental health is all-to-often an issue that is overlooked by individuals and society at large. While the focus has predominantly been on flattening the curve of the spread of the coronavirus and subsequent related deaths, as it should be, it is also imperative that we focus our attention and energy on flattening the curve of the coronavirus-related mental health issues that are developing.
One does not have to be a mental health professional to dissect why we are currently seeing an upward trend in mental health related issues such as anxiety, depression, stress, domestic violence, marital discord, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicide, among other emotional, psychological and behavioral issues. Not only are there economic concerns, but there are a variety of other factors currently at play, and every individual may be reacting to the pandemic in their own unique way, in differing severities, displaying varying symptoms, at different times. For some it certainly may be the financial and economic stressors that are creating anxiety or depression, while for others it is the isolation and sense of loneliness that is driving their crippling low mood. Then there are the stressed-out parents who are learning to homeschool their child(ren) while juggling their other life obligations. The couple who for the first time is forced to face each other for 24/7 and talk about real issues that they may have previously been avoiding. The extroverts who are lacking their social support group and emotional outlets. Those who are bored and can’t stop binge eating, binge drinking, abusing drugs, gambling online, or engaging in other addictive behaviors. Those not able to spend time with their elderly parents or friends due to fear of spreading the virus. Existential crises that are arising and fears about the future. The ones who are tragically dealing with grief of a loved one and may not have been able to spend their last days or hours with them due to hospital restrictions, or not even be able to have a proper funeral and surround themselves with loved ones. Such issues are traumatizing, severe, and pervasive.
Although much damage has already been done, it is imperative that we work to stop not only the virus in its tracks, but also the direct and indirect issues that come out of it. Many government officials and agencies are working hard to address the mental health problems of today, but much more needs to be done to flatten the curve, as 75,000 projected lives lost should be unacceptable to us all. Opening up businesses and allowing for more social interactions brings a sign of relief, but there has already been long-lasting and long-reaching damage done that will impact our nation’s mental health for the unforeseeable future. It is perhaps more important than ever that we work together to address the mental health issues of this country in order to bring some relief to those who are struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, alcoholism, drug addiction, binge eating, marital discord, and other such mental health related issues.
So, what can we do? Well, we might be able to look to what has worked to flatten the curve of the coronavirus cases and related deaths in order to shed some light on what might work to flatten the curve of a mental health pandemic. What worked so well, and continues to be our solution until there is a vaccine, is taking personal responsibility. This pandemic started from one single person in China, and has shown perhaps more than ever the impact that a single person can have on the rest of the world. It is now each individual’s responsibility to help stop the spread by staying home, exhibiting proper hygiene such as hand washing, wearing a mask, and social distancing, to name a few of the major actions we are each taking to reduce the spread of the virus. When individuals begin to stray from these responsibilities, there is a likelihood that we will see an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
Similarly to how we flattened the curve of the virus, we can take personal responsibility to stop the spread of addiction, of depression, of anxiety, of homicide, of suicide, and from other such mental health related issues that are leading to the projection of 75,000 American lives lost due to “deaths of despair.” Just as government took great action in raising awareness of the pandemic and the imperativeness of following public health guidelines, the same undertaking must be made for mental health as well. So, what might this look like? Just as we stressed the importance of physical hygiene, we need to stress the importance of mental hygiene as well. Mental hygiene includes, but is not limited to, behaviors such as eating well, being physically active, proper sleep and rest, self-care, stress reduction, meditation, mindfulness, having a support system, and expressing emotions, to name a few. For some it may require talking to a mental health professional such as a therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist. It may require being more adamant about checking in on your loved ones, or your neighbors. Perhaps in addition to COVID-19 testing at places of employment and around our communities, we should also be doing mental health assessments and providing resources to those who may be at high risk. It also means de-stigmatizing mental health, which is not only done through talking about it or making social media posts about Mental Health Awareness Month, but also means demonstrating that it is ok to seek out help through going to talk to a therapist or attending a support group. We de-stigmatize it and incentivize others to get their own help by demonstrating the appropriate behavior and getting our own help.
Of course, resources that can be provided through private and public entities are essential. As Well Being Trust’s chief strategy officer Dr. Benjamin F. Miller said, “Unless we get comprehensive federal, state, and local resources behind improving access to high-quality mental health treatments and community supports, I worry we’re likely to see things get far worse when it comes to substance misuse and suicide.” While that is true, we also need to take personal action. There are a variety of actions that we all can and should be taking to flatten the curve of mental health related issues. We took action to flatten the curve from our initial estimates of up to 1.2 million Americans dying from the coronavirus, and our individual actions of today and each day thereafter will shape the projections moving forward. Similarly, our initial estimates of 75,000 Americans dying from mental health related issues stemming from COVID-19 can also be shaped based on our actions starting today. Let’s each do our part. Let’s flatten the curve.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health or substance abuse related issue please seek out a mental health professional in your area. Call your health insurance provider or search for a therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist in your area. You may also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1 (800) 662-4357. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal or homicidal ideation, please call 911, or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). You may also call or text the HopeLine for crisis situations at 1 (919) 231-4525 or 1 (877) 235-4525. All calls are always confidential. Help is available, do not suffer in silence.
For more information on therapy and mental health, or to inquire about our private concierge therapy services and/or our teletherapy services (online therapy/virtual therapy) in New York City please contact our undisclosed therapy office location in the Upper East Side of NYC today at (929) 220-2912.