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Nonprofit View: COVID-19 increases need for mental health, substance use services | COMMENTARY

The world in which we currently live has evolved quickly into an unrecognizable environment that is unstable, uncertain, and viewed as frightening at times. Social isolation, disrupted routines, mask-wearing, new restrictions, social distancing, and business closures are the new norm for all of us.

Our most vulnerable populations face job loss, food insecurity, and daily work-related COVID-exposure from their minimum-wage jobs. Additionally, the coronavirus pandemic disproportionally impacts our communities of color. The medical consequences of this deadly virus were once inconceivable. Today, they significantly impact and sadden our daily lives, both our physical health and our mental health, driven by the statistics this deadly virus produces. We are experiencing a pandemic, and secondary to that, a mental health emergency.

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Mental health concerns increase daily. People without a prior mental illness report stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, and loneliness; one can only imagine how the uncertainties of COVID affect our residents with existing mental illnesses. Many of our clients at Carroll Couty Youth Service Bureau (CCYSB) struggle in the best of times, so when confronted with isolation, financial hardship, and extreme uncertainty, daily life becomes unduly compounded. Therapists at our agency report symptoms mentioned above, including clients needing more intensive or an increased level of services, increased family crises, more interpersonal relationship conflict, and increased hospitalizations.

Due to loneliness, low mood, interrupted care, and inconsistent support, and medical symptoms, the potential for self-destructive behavior increases exponentially. Due to isolation, our elderly population may be experiencing the loss of natural supports (family, friends), church services, libraries, and senior centers.

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Our children do not have a pass in dealing with COVID-19, as they experience loss of social and school time, negative self-talk, frustration with technology, negative thoughts about this “never-ending,” and overstretched parents who may exhibit difficulty tolerating frustration and monitoring their irritability and anger. As a non-medical person, I cannot imagine the burnout and strain among front-line health care workers who deserve our utmost thanks every day.

Before March 2020 and COVID-19, over 45 million (20% of Americans) were diagnosed with a mental illness. By June 2020, 40% of adults reported struggling with mental health and/or substance use issues. Additionally, a recent study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that 13.3% of adults reported new or increased substance use as a way to manage stress due to the coronavirus; and 10.7% of adults reported thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days.

As this pandemic is likely to have short and long-term consequences, mental health and substance-use concerns need to be treated as an essential part of our response to and recovery from COVID-19. As our leaders continue to discuss further actions to alleviate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increased need for mental health and substance use services could continue longer-term, even as deaths due to COVID-19 decrease.

Mental health is achievable, there is hope for all people, and recovery is always the goal.

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Lynn Davis is the executive director of the Carroll County Youth Service Bureau.

Each Monday, the Carroll County Times publishes a column from a local nonprofit, allowing them to share information about their organization and the issues facing it, as our editorial. To be considered, email cctnews@carrollcountytimes.com with the subject line “Nonprofit View.”

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