Stress, worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. These are all uncomfortable feelings many people experience at one time or another during the course of life. However, COVID-19 has made many who are normally not susceptible to these issues more likely to experience them than ever before. And for those who have any of anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues, and the like, the pandemic has only increased these issues.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of mental health issues including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation have dramatically increased amongst all age groups, races, and genders. For the younger adults, there has been a disproportionately large increase in both substance abuse and suicidal ideation since the pandemic began.
A study by the CDC revealed that in late June 2020, 40% of adults in the United States reported that they were struggling with either a mental health issue or a substance abuse issue. The report also revealed:
- 31% experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression
- 26% experiencing trauma symptoms
- 13% started or increased substance use
- 11% seriously considered suicide
These numbers are alarming particularly when compared to the second quarter of 2019. When compared to that period of time the following was found:
- Rates of anxiety increased threefold from 8.1% to 25.5%
- Rates of depression increased four times from 6.5% to 24.3%
- One in ten adults reported an increase in substance use to cope
- Rates of suicide ideation increased by two times
There’s no doubt that there has been a significant increase in mental health issues since the pandemic began. Data also reveals the following groups to be most seriously impacted by adverse mental health issues since COVID-19 began:
- Young adults
- Hispanic people
- Black people
- Essential workers
- Unpaid adult caregivers
- Individuals with preexisting mental health issues
It’s of little importance whether or not you fit into one of these ‘groups’ experiencing an increase in mental health issues. The fact is that many who have never experienced anxiety or depression—or have leaned on a substance to cope—are now in the grips of a mental health crisis.
If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance abuse, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Offering a residential mental health treatment program for adults as well as three distinct substance and alcohol abuse treatment programs, Futures’ dedicated team works together to address all mental health and substance abuse issues.
Essential Workers and First Responders: Increased Risk of Mental Health Issues
There’s simply no doubt that even without a pandemic many first responders and essential workers suffer silently with either mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or alcohol use or substance use disorders. Today, this is even more true than ever before.
Not only are our healthcare workers on the frontlines dealing with life and death on a daily basis, but COVID-19 has also brought with it more stress for these dedicated workers who sacrifice their own wellbeing on a daily basis.
For these essential workers, the rate of stress and stressors on the job have increased substantially. From an increased risk of getting infected with COVID-19 and the high rate of mortality of patients hospitalized with COVID to the extended duration of the pandemic and the requirement to function for extended periods of time under such unprecedented stress, many first responders are experiencing the brunt of mental health issues.
But, not only are those in the general population and essential workers suffering from a significant increase in mental health issues, so too are those who have had COVID-19. Recent research is showing an increase in anxiety, depression, and dementia for patients who have had COVID-19.
This recent study from the United Kingdom published in a November issue of The Lancet found that 18% of those individuals who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 suffered from a mental health issue within three months of their diagnosis. This is double the risk of their non-COVID diagnosed counterparts.
It’s clear, not only from the recent research but also from daily life that the increase of both mental health issues and substance abuse issues during COVID has significantly increased. And as we near the end (hopefully) of the pandemic, there will be many in need of treatment for mental health issues associated with COVID-19 and the pandemic.
Many who have not previously struggled with a mental health issue are not sure if they are truly suffering from anxiety, depressions, PTSD, etc. It’s important to understand some of the signs of stress and ways to get help.
Symptoms of Unhealthy Stress:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Being tired, overwhelmed, burned out
- Feeling angry, irritable, restless
- Experiencing feelings of helplessness
- Having feelings of sadness, worry, or anxiety
- Feeling unmotivated
- Feeling isolated
- Lacking feelings or experiencing indifference
For some who are experiencing high levels of stress, they have healthy coping skills in place which serve them well; for others, the ongoing levels of stress and exposure to life and death situations may lead to stress-related disorders such as PTSD or even secondary traumatic stress. Secondary traumatic stress is when an individual has stress reactions or symptoms due to exposure to another person’s traumatic experience.
Symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress:
- Recurring thoughts or bad dreams about the traumatic event
- Worrying or being fearful about bad things happening
- Being ‘on guard’ or ‘on edge’
- Experiencing physical signs of unhealthy stress (see above)
It’s important to keep an eye on your own mental health. This is particularly true for first responders, essential workers, and those in the groups who are experiencing significantly higher rates of mental health issues during this pandemic. If you are experiencing a few of these symptoms for longer than a day or so, it’s vital to seek help.
The increase in stress and related mental health issues from COVID-19 is so significant the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), developed several COVID-related stress scales which help to diagnosis an individual with what is now being called COVID Stress Syndrome.
What is COVID Stress Syndrome?
COVID Stress Syndrome is related to experiencing one or more of the five constructed COVID Stress Scales. These five COVID Stress Scales are as follows:
- Danger and contamination fears
- Socioeconomic concerns
- Xenophobia (dislike or prejudice against people from other countries)
- Traumatic stress
- Continual checking
These factors are all interrelated and are helpful in determining the level of stress from the pandemic. According to the ADAA, 16% of adults in the general population are suffering from severe COVID Stress Syndrome. Severe cases include higher levels of anxiety and depression, more distress when isolated, stockpiling or panic buying, and avoiding public places.
The study of COVID Stress Syndrome is just beginning and more information is needed to effectively diagnose and treat those with this syndrome. However, for many, mental health treatment and self-care techniques will provide substantial help and relief from the associated symptoms of not only COVID Stress Disorder but also help for anxiety and depression.
Coping Tips for First Responders and Essential Workers
When it comes to first responders and essential workers coping with the associated stressors of the pandemic can seem neverending. From stress on the job to the worries at home, life may seem like endless stress. And while some of the tips to cope are similar to those coping tips for the general public, there are more specific tips for this group.
- Discuss job stressors with co-workers, supervisors, and employees
- Identify on the job stressors and find possible solutions
- Find out how to access mental health support at work
- Recognize your role in helping to support those in the pandemic
- Realize you are doing your best and do not expect too much from yourself, co-workers, or employees
- Keep a consistent routine as much as possible
- Exercise and spend time outside when you’re able
- Engage in activities you enjoy when not working
- Limit exposure to media coverage of the pandemic
- Take part in mindfulness practice
- Continue taking any medications for mental health issues
- Ask for help when you need extra support
It’s vital to reach out for help if you are feeling overwhelmed by the stressors in your life. Futures offers programs in our substance abuse treatment programs that are tailored to meet the needs of first responders. This program, which has helped many first responders, is the Hero’s Ascent First Responders Track. In addition, Futures has a unit solely dedicated to mental health treatment.
For those who aren’t on the frontlines, the following tips can help you to feel better and help for anxiety and depression-related feelings:
- Find the time and creative ways to connect with others
- Get connected or stay connected with faith groups like churches in your local community
- Take breaks from watching the news about the pandemic as well as other stressful events
- Engage in activities you enjoy
- Take time to relax
- Take care of your body with plenty of rest, good eating habits, and exercise
- Avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, tobacco, or another substance
- Ask for help
If you or someone you love has been struggling even more during the COVID pandemic or if you think you are experiencing COVID Stress Syndrome reach out for help. Whether it’s an increase in substance or alcohol use or the onset or increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression help is available.
Contact Futures for help with an alcohol or substance use disorder as well as a mental health concern. Our dedicated, compassionate team is here for you. Reach out today online or call us at 866-804-2098 and learn more about how we can help or schedule a tour.