Nine months later, those grim predictions look like they’re coming true.
“There is a mental health wave to this pandemic,” Dr. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer of the National Alliance for Mental Illness, told ABC News. “We as a species don’t do well with uncertainty.”
The pandemic, for many Americans, has exacerbated already-stressful scenarios — deaths of loved ones, illnesses, loss of income — according to psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe.
Additionally, stay-at-home orders and school closures — important actions to prevent virus spread — created downstream consequences such as social isolation, eroding support networks and additional financial strain.
All of these factors are contributing to more suicides, overdoses and violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And specialists warn that this mental health pandemic within the virus pandemic also will disproportionately affect Blacks, Hispanics, the elderly, people of lower socioeconomic status of all races, and health care workers.
Many of these accelerating public health crises already were worsening before COVID-19.
In 2018, the U.S had the highest age-adjusted suicide rates since 1941. By June, a CDC survey of 5,470 US adults found that one-third reported anxiety or depression symptoms. About 10% said they had considered suicide during the last month, and the rate of suicidal thoughts was highest among unpaid caregivers, essential workers, Hispanic or Black respondents and young adults.
People age 18 to 25 may be the most affected group, Duckworth explained.
“We need to take a look at the age impact,” Duckworth added. “In the age where identity is developed, young adults are missing college.”
The opioid epidemic, previously considered the greatest public health threat in the U.S., also has worsened since the virus outbreak. After overdose deaths briefly plateaued in 2017 — stricter regulations of prescription drugs were enacted — deaths began creeping upward again because of illegal synthetic substitutes like fentanyl.
“We were making some improvement in terms of treatment options for opioid addiction prior to the pandemic,” Dr. Harshal Kirane, medical director of Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research, told ABC news. “However, there were still major treatment gaps that have worsened now that we have a superimposed pandemic.”
More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related deaths since then pandemic struck, according to the American Medical Association.
Overdoses — both fatal and non-fatal — have increased 20% compared with the same time period in