Canaan, CT – In the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis, the mental health and well-being of already vulnerable Americans has become further compromised. Mountainside Treatment Center cautions the public about five dangerous trends that have begun to surface this year and are likely to endure without the necessary interventions:
1. Rising drug overdoses. The number of lethal drug overdoses has been trending in the wrong direction for years, and the pandemic has compounded this tragic pattern. The CDC has projected that in addition to the mounting loss of life associated with the coronavirus, drug overdoses are likely to claim an additional 75,500 lives by the end of 2020. Death rates due to opioid-related causes have been particularly concerning during the COVID-19 era, with the American Medical Association flagging that 40 states have seen increases in opioid overdose fatalities.
2. Increased reliance on anti-anxiety medications. Benzodiazepines – anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax and Valium – have also become more popular during this global pandemic. Between January 19th and March 14th of this year, health services company Express Scripts indicated an approximate 34 percent rise in these anti-anxiety medications. An analysis by the Global Drug Survey, a U.K.-based research organization, found that 37 percent of participants had increased their use of prescription benzodiazepines worldwide, with 14 percent noting that they had upped their use of these drugs substantially. This is particularly worrisome because benzodiazepines suppress breathing, presenting a considerable threat to those already suffering from COVID-19.
3. Drinking more to cope with stress. Since the start of the pandemic, experts feared that the mental health challenges of lockdown would cause more individuals to drink to manage stress. A study published in September by JAMA Network confirmed these fears to be well-founded, with alcohol consumption increasing by 14 percent from April 2019 to June 2020. Even more alarming, the researchers found that heavy drinking among women surged by 41 percent during the same period. To urge Americans to minimize their drinking during the pandemic and beyond, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns of the potential harms of excessive alcohol consumption, which include alcohol poisoning and increased abuse within intimate relationships.
4. Heightened risk of domestic violence. When recommendations for social distancing went into effect and many workers were sent home – either due to new work arrangements or because they had been laid off – Americans often found themselves stuck in their houses. For some, this meant being trapped with abusive partners. The New England Journal of Medicine notes that calls to domestic violence hotlines have dropped by 50 percent in some regions during the coronavirus crisis, even though 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men were on the receiving end of intimate partner violence (IPV) prior to the pandemic. Social services professionals suspect that IPV not only persists despite this decrease in calls, but victims are also likely experiencing more intense abuse as their partners attempt to assert authority in response to overwhelming uncertainty.
5. Greater threat of suicide. Mental health professionals are likewise concerned that the many repercussions of the pandemic will lead to more “deaths of despair” in the form of suicide. The National Alliance on Mental Illness saw the number of people reaching out to their HelpLine skyrocket by 65 percent from March 1 to April 30. Months later, nearly 11 percent of American adults reported that they “seriously considered suicide,” in response to a CDC survey conducted in June. Those most at-risk of suicide include individuals suffering from domestic violence, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders.
While these issues are increasing in momentum due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many crisis situations are preventable. Be vigilant about the warning signs of trouble and seek additional support when needed. Investigate resources such as the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and SAMHSA’s National Helpline, or reach out to a local treatment center for assistance with overcoming substance use disorders.