The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for people struggling with mental health issues and substance misuse disorders. Not only have people lost their jobs, but social and family interactions have been limited. In addition, support groups and treatment regimens have been disrupted as the country has gone into lockdown to reduce the spread of the deadly virus.
The 2021 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report revealed during the pandemic 4 in 10 adult Americans experienced high levels of psychological distress, including bouts of anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and loneliness, up from just 10 percent in 2019. Specifically, the KFF Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 found that many adults suffered specific negative impacts on their mental health and well-being, including difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%) and worsening chronic conditions (12%) due to worry and stress brought on by the virus. The Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (April 2021) captured the following data on the health and economic impacts during the pandemic:
Young adults (aged 18-24) report symptoms of anxiety and/or depression (56%). Compared to all adults, young adults are more likely to report substance use (25% to 13%) and suicidal thoughts (26% to 11%).
Adults in households with job loss or lower incomes report higher rates of symptoms of mental illness than those without job or income loss (53% to 32%).
Women with children are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depression than men with children (49% to 40%). In general, both prior to, and during, the pandemic, women have reported higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to men.
Non-Hispanic Black adults (48%) and Hispanic/Latino adults (46%) are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety or depression than Non-Hispanic White adults (41%).
Compared to non-essential workers, essential workers were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety or depression (42% to 30%), increased substance use (25% to 11%) and suicidal thoughts (22% to 8%) during the pandemic.
Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that, between May 2019 and May 2020, 81,230 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, an increase of over 15 percent from 2019 and the largest number of drug overdose deaths ever
recorded. Synthetic opioids drove this increase, rising 38 percent during this period, more than double
the overall drug overdose death rate. South Carolina was among 25 states in which overall drug overdose deaths rose more than 20 percent and reported synthetic opioid death increases at this level. The pandemic has been the major cause for these increases in opioid usage by forcing people to isolate away from support and treatment services and back into addictive behavior.
Recent actions by national and state public health agencies are directing new policy solutions towards addressing the opioid epidemic and the mental health issues arising from the pandemic. As the country begins to reopen with a major vaccine effort to reduce the pandemic’s impact, it is imperative that these new efforts be implemented, and that the momentum lost during the pandemic does not force the nation to start over again.