As the COVID-19 pandemic heads into its second year, variants are spreading quickly, causing a new surge of infections in many countries, and lockdowns have begun again. The devastation of a year under lockdown from COVID-19 has marked an effect on mental health. There is a wide range of causes and a bevy of impacts from this stress, and some researchers fear that the effects on mental health could linger long after the pandemic has subsided.
Even without a pandemic raging worldwide, facing mental health challenges is difficult enough, but COVID-19 has magnified these issues for many people. Let’s take a look at how the pandemic and its reverberating effects are affecting mental health in adults.
Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
Since the onset of stay-at-home and shelter-in-place restrictions being put in place, concerns about substance abuse and mental health have increased. For example, a CDC survey conducted in 2020 showed that 13% of adults reported new or increased substance use due to COVID-19-related stress.
As this stress has increased and restrictions to normal activities have become more prevalent, people have had fewer ways to manage that stress. Due to the pandemic, it is more challenging to participate in physical activity and experience social interactions. This has led to an increase in substance abuse and binge-behavior. With an increase in use also comes the potential for overdose. To that end, the CDC found that opioid and cocaine overdoses increased from March 2020 to May 2020.
Even in the face of these startling statistics, there are ways to combat substance abuse during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Since the pandemic has started, there has been an increase in online peer support meetings. These online options were limited in the past, but they have now expanded to provide various options. These virtual support groups have strong attendance with familiar peers.
Another way to combat the fatigue and stress of this unprecedented time is to create a routine for your day. Routines are comforting and empowering, and provide a rhythm to one’s day. They can lower stress levels and encourage healthy habits that stick with time. A few examples of activities to help structure one’s time include:
- Create a loose schedule for your day, wake up at a determined time, plan activities and housework, and try to go to bed at the same time every night.
- Exercise – even if you’re stuck at home, there are many YouTube fitness videos with exercises you can do at home.
- Schedule regular virtual meetings with friends and family
- Practice mindfulness – practice deep breathing, meditation, or write in a journal.
In addition to these coping mechanisms, most therapists have moved to vastly expand telemental-health service options. Telemental health services utilize a secure portal to hold therapy sessions from the comfort and privacy of one’s home. These sessions can be conducted for individuals, couples, and families, and allow for access to the world’s best psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors from anywhere with an internet connection.
Suicide and Suicidal Ideation
Some people suffering with mental health issues may be at an elevated risk for suicide. Due to high levels of stress, feelings of hopelessness and despair can become a regular fixture in one’s daily life. For those who are already in treatment for suicidal ideation, this risk may need additional support.
In addition, this risk is not limited to those who have a recent history of suicidal thoughts or attempts but includes those who suffer from other psychiatric disorders. These include, but are not limited to depressive and bipolar disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders, and those who find it difficult to manage strong negative emotions.
If you are already in treatment, let your therapist know your thoughts and feelings, and any suicidal thoughts and impulses you’ve had. Your therapist can help you talk through these feelings and suggest changes in routine, activity, or your treatment plan that will help you proactively combat these feelings.
If you’re not currently in treatment, reach out for help. This may be a difficult decision to make, but it can make a world of difference. If you need to, involve family or your partner to help you find the right therapist for you and your needs.
Once you take the step to reach out, you’ll have an entire network of help with developing healthy coping skills, have your feelings and thoughts validated, and have professional assistance working toward overcoming negative emotions you are struggling with during this tough time. Even during the time of stay-at-home orders, therapists are available virtually to help you, from the comfort of your home and on your schedule.
Get Help from the Professionals
COVID-19 has changed life for many people, and even more so for those who live with mental health challenges. It’s important to know that it’s ok to reach out for help and have the knowledge of what resources are available to you. Virtual appointments, support groups, and other forms of help are available to you with just a phone call or click.
Lisa Rogers is a licensed therapist based in New York City, trained in clinical issues such as depression and anxiety. In addition, she has extensive training in substance abuse, addiction, and medication-assisted treatment. She works with inpatients, outpatients, private practice facilities working with individuals and their families.
Contact Lisa Rogers Counseling today to discuss the issues you’re currently facing and find out how she can help.
Since 1993, I have been providing a combination of all my years of training tailoring specific treatments based on the individual needs and challenges of my patients, facilitating healing. I make every effort to accommodate the busy schedules of my patients by offering evenings, weekend appointments and Telemental Health (Online Counseling-Virtual/Video Conference and Phone Sessions) offered in the following states I am licensed in: New York, California, Illinois, Texas, New Jersey, Florida, and Vermont.