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Flattening the COVID Mental Health Curve

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Flattening the COVID Mental Health Curve

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).

COVID Mental Health

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:

  • For Relapse

    If a recovering addict or alcoholic has relapsed, reaching out to a support network should be the first step. This may have to take the form of a Zoom AA meeting or a call to their sponsor, depending on local restrictions for large gatherings. Beyond finding non-professional support, it may be more constructive to seek rehab directly. Facilities are taking special precautions from government officials to keep programs safe from outbreaks, so this may be the best option to fast track back to sobriety. 

  • If Detox Becomes Necessary

    Remember that detoxing from home is not safe, and for some substances such as alcohol and benzos, withdrawal symptoms can be fatal if not monitored under clinical care. A detox program will ensure that people seeking recovery can get clean and sober with the comfort and safety of regulated detox medications. Different programs offer different levels of care, so it’s important to speak to the program’s representative upfront about whether they offer residential care after detox, outpatient services for long term, and so on.  

  • Rehab’s Full Continuum of Care

    Speaking to addiction counselors directly is the best method for finding a program that works for you. They will best be able to identify what level of care is most appropriate for your individual situation. Addicts who are actively using will typically start with a 7-10 detox, and after that it is recommended that they go through residential and outpatient care afterward. Going through a full rehab program increases chances of success to stay sober.

  • For Mood Disorders

    Other than just staying sober, rehab programs offer therapy tools for individuals to manage mood disorders. They also typically will have access to therapists and psychiatrists who can prescribe mood medication if it’s needed. Having a mood disorder alongside a substance abuse disorder, known as dual diagnosis, creates a high risk for relapse when mood symptoms start to flare up.

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

Posted in Addiction, Culture, Featured, Health and Wellness