Thursday May 23, 2024

Dire crisis

By Lynn Parramore
December 03, 2021

In the US, more than one in four adults was suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder even before the pandemic. For too long, cost and access barriers to mental health care have caused incalculable suffering. Covid has now blown the lid off a crisis building for decades. So why isn’t there a plan to deal with it?

The Lancet reports that cases of mental disorders have skyrocketed during the pandemic, including 53 million new cases of major depressive disorder and 76 million new cases of anxiety disorders. In the US, since spring of 2020, the National Center for Health Statistics has partnered with the Census Bureau on a new, rapid-turnaround data system to monitor depression and anxiety, finding that just over half of adults between the ages of 18 and 44 surveyed have reported symptoms, as have 38 percent of adults living with children.

Researchers find that younger adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers (most of them women), have been especially hard-hit by mental distress and increased substance use. Growing alcohol use is particularly worrisome among stretched-to-the-breaking-point young women juggling children under the age of five and work responsibilities. Feedback loops within families mean that distressed parents transfer their anxiety and depression to children and vice versa. Three top US organizations specializing in child and adolescent mental health, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recently declared a state of emergency for the country’s youth, noting that Covid-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice have compounded trends of declining mental health among kids observed prior to 2020.

Many people find themselves in so much pain, they think about dying. Suicide attempts by young girls are notably on the rise. Young people unable to obtain mental health care are being sent to hospital emergency rooms, where the staff are under their own intense stress due to private equity takeovers of health care and the spillovers of an inadequate care system.

We can’t go on like this. Yet as alarming as it all sounds, signs indicate the crisis may only intensify. Covid-19 case rates may be falling in some areas, but the stresses associated with the pandemic are far from over – particularly as new variants spread, causing further disruption.

In the US, those needing help face a serious shortage of mental health specialists (themselves often suffering from burnout and stress), a reduced number of psychiatric hospital beds, and a loss of job-based health insurance. Even for those who have insurance, a lack of in-network counselors and therapists means that care is frequently out of reach. And if you don’t live in a city, you may be out of luck: In some states, 80 percent of the population lives in an area where mental health professionals are scarce.

The upshot is that millions are going without the treatment they require. People are unable to sleep, gaining weight, and turning to potentially harmful strategies as they struggle to cope with grief, loss, isolation, family and workplace stress, and economic woes, including the latest worries about inflation.

Excerpted: ‘The Pandemic Is Exacerbating an Already Dire Mental Health Crisis’