One step forward, two steps back: we’ve now passed the three-month mark of widespread mandated social isolation. Unfortunately, COVID cases continue to climb as we slowly reopen the economy. So not only are businesses starting to scale back again, but the isolation has prolonged itself past what many initially anticipated. According to industry projections, COVID mental health struggles may result in a delayed onset of 75,000 alcohol and drug-related deaths due to increased substance misuse and suicide. These projections are based on three concerning factors: the uncertainty of a novel virus spreading rapidly, unprecedented economic failure paired with massive unemployment, and mandated social isolation for months (and possible residual isolation for years).
Deaths of Despair Climbing
According to the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, if the country fails to invest in solutions that help heal our country’s inordinate level of pain, isolation, and suffering, the effects of the virus will be much more devastating beyond deaths from the virus itself.
“Undeniably policymakers must place a large focus on mitigating the effects of COVID. However, if the country continues to ignore the collateral damage—specifically our nation’s mental health—we will not come out of this stronger…With all the other COVID-related investments, it’s time for the federal government to fully support a framework for excellence regarding COVID mental health and well-being and invest in mental health now.”
Benjamin F. Miller, PsyD, Chief Strategy Officer, WBT
The Robert Graham Center released a study which combined information on deaths of despair from 2018 as a baseline, annual number of deaths based on economic modeling, and projected unemployment levels due to COVID-19 until 2029. Looking across the nine different outcomes, undue deaths due to substance abuse and suicide ranged from 27,644 to 154,037, with 75,000 being the most likely medium. This medium does not factor in the negative impact of isolation and uncertainty, so an even higher estimate may turn out to be the case.
Flatten the COVID Mental Health Curve
With these grim projections, it is crucial for people suffering with substance abuse and/or other behavioral health disorders to circumvent those outcomes for themselves. While we cannot necessarily control the overbearing weight of COVID mental health overall in the country, individuals certainly have the ability to take proactive steps for their individual circumstances.
The best approach to addressing COVID mental health in these difficult times depends on individual situations, as needs vary person by person. But these are typically good areas to start:
Realistically, with the way COVID has not abated in the US as epidemiologists hoped, we will be dealing with COVID mental health problems for the foreseeable future. What we hoped would take months is starting to look like closer to a year, and probably beyond that. There is some hope that the economy will improve before that though. This should help recovering addicts who may find themselves unemployed due to COVID and more vulnerable to relapse. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s in individuals’ best interest to get ahead of the grim projections and take proactive steps to seek help.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for a substance abuse problem, our addiction counselors are available 24/7 by phone: 855-737-7363