The pandemic and mental health fall out

More than one year after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we continue to see the effects of isolation, fear and other related stressors, and how they will continue to impact our communities in the long term.

For many – and in many ways – the last year has been hard. During the coronavirus pandemic, worries about health, chronic isolation due to social distancing measures, disruption to school and work, and other situations have created a mental health crisis like none ever experienced before. Even as we work toward a new level of “normalcy,” these mental health ramifications will continue to be felt for months and years to come. At Foundation 2 Crisis Services, we seek to provide support for these concerns as they continue and develop in our communities across Iowa.

Mental health impacts

Chronic feelings of fear, social isolation, financial struggles, trauma, loss and widespread uncertainty affected individuals’ well-being and increase mental health concerns. Many individuals experienced a new level of uncertainty and strain that they have never experienced before; for others, the new challenges worsened existing mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Between January and September 2020, Mental Health America found a 93% increase from the total anxiety versus 2019 numbers. Depression screenings shows a 62% increase over 2019 numbers. Many others reported unwanted weight gain, sleep disturbances and other negative health impacts. Learn more about these mental health impacts.

Substance use

Studies have also found increased rates of substance use during 2020, often linked to isolation and feelings of anxiety or depression. The CDC reported that 13% of surveyed adults had started using or increased usage of substances Рincluding alcohol, prescription drugs and illegal substances Рduring summer 2020. Unpaid caregivers were the most likely to report an increased likelihood of substance use and thoughts of suicide between May and June 2020.  Another tracking program found that early pandemic months brought an 18% increase nationwide in overdoses compared to the same month in 2019. Those in recovery faced additional challenges, often isolated from their support networks and faced with additional stressors and challenges.

Income inequality

Not all populations experience the pandemic’s impacts equally. Low income individuals are more likely to experience negative outcomes, including a lack of access to health care and an inability to pay for medical services – both of which have been exacerbated by pandemic closures and job loss.¬† People with lower incomes were generally more likely to report major negative mental health impacts from worry or stress over coronavirus, according to a KFF Health Tracking Poll.

In December 2020, 35% of those earning less than $40,000 reported experiencing a major negative mental health impact, compared to 21% of those with incomes between $40,000 to $89,999 and 17% of those making $90,000 or more, according to KFF Health. While mental health can impact everyone regardless of income, social economic factors can create barriers and increase challenges including financial stability, housing, employment and childcare, all of which have the potential to impact mental health.

Going forward

We have spent the last year listening to thousands of callers experiencing all kinds of mental health and life concerns. This will only continue. From studies of past major events – including Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 – we know that there are elevated rates of mental health problems, some lasting a decade or more. We can’t predict all the long-term mental health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, but we are dedicated to supporting our communities and removing as many barriers as possible to access care for all. Our mission is to continue to be a trusted support when life gets tough – for all people, any time, every time.

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