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Mental health of young adults and those with no previous issues is suffering during pandemic, Hopkins experts say

A range of people are suffering from loneliness, anxiety and depression because of the coronavirus pandemic, but more so people with financial hardship, minorities and young adults, according to Johns Hopkins University experts in mental health.

The experts highlighted their findings during a news conference Thursday to call attention to the mental health challenges created by the pandemic.

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Their conclusions are supported by national surveys and others’ recent research, but might seem obvious to the public because so many people are experiencing symptoms firsthand — some for the first time.

“The pandemic is impacting our lives in so many ways — social, financial and our health,” said Elizabeth A. Stuart, a professor of mental health, biostatistics, and health policy and management in Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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“The scope of COVID-19 has been fairly unprecedented, and the financial impacts are more wide-reaching than other natural disasters we’ve studied,” she said. “It remains to be seen the long-term consequences.”

In the short term, a recent Hopkins survey from earlier this year found 14% of adults had serious mental distress during the pandemic, versus 4% before.

The rate was higher for those 18 to 29, perhaps, she said, because they have less developed coping skills and their social and work lives were more upended than those of older people, including seniors whose health has been far more heavily affected by the disease.

The results are similar to a study released Aug. 14 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It found the percentage of those 18 to 24 who seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days was just over 25%, compared with 10% overall.

The CDC study found that more than 40% of respondents from late June struggled with at least one mental health or substance use issue.

More people will be in need of services, and should seek them or be directed to them, said Johannes Thrul, an assistant professor of mental health at Hopkins’ Bloomberg School. There are hotlines and crisis centers for those with severe and immediate needs, he said.

For others suffering symptoms but not in crisis, there is therapy, Thrul said. Telehealth services are now more widely available for those who can’t access local treatment or don’t want to go to a hospital or facility.

For those who can cope on their own, he also had suggestions, including limiting negative news on television and social media.

“Stay in touch with supportive friends and family regularly,” Thrul advised. “Try and talk to someone every day,” online, on the phone or in person at a distance.

“If the weather is nice, try and get outside, get some fresh air and sun,” he said. “Get sleep, eat well.”

People in crisis are seeking help, said Dr. Adam Rosenblatt, a psychiatrist with the University of Maryland’s Upper Chesapeake Health in Bel Air. He estimates about a third of the psychiatric patients now being admitted to the Harford County hospital are coronavirus-related.

He said they are people who are having “flare ups” in their substance use disorders, those demoralized over losing a job, people cooped up with antagonistic family members and those with chronic illnesses who have lost the support of a treatment program or had medication interrupted.

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Some had mental health or substance-use issues before the pandemic but were coping well, Rosenblatt said. Others never had a psychiatric condition before, but the coronavirus produced a new stressor or a combination of stressors, he said.

He and the other experts agreed that stigmas remain for those with disorders, which can dissuade people from seeking help. Fear of becoming infected with COVID-19 also could put people off going somewhere for help. But he said many conditions are effectively, even quickly managed.

“There is treatment out there,” Rosenblatt said. “We have to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks.”

He said some people can manage alone by indulging in a hobby or finding something else that suits them, so long as it’s not excessive alcohol or other destructive behavior. He warned people not to compare themselves to others who say they have “learned French, grown a garden or lost a lot of weight. It’s OK to watch TV and veg,” to an extent.

“Making sourdough bread will work for some people, but we can’t pretend this doesn’t suck,” Rosenblatt said. “Giving advice to more-or-less healthy people is certainly important, but they are more likely to cope on their own. I worry about people with fewer resources and more issues. They’re the ones who could die from this.”

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