Mental health and substance use disorders are not new issues to American society. Addiction, specifically, was on a rising trajectory over the last decade. America’s opioid epidemic, streets flooded with OxyContin, and rising rates of both fatal and non-fatal overdoses were an issue throughout every American town, city, and state since the early 2000’s. However, while mental health issues and addiction certainly seemed more widespread, accepted, and spoken about over the last decade or two, America now finds itself in a much more complicated and concerning situation over the last three plus years. Why? Because due to the COVID-19 global health pandemic, America has changed, Americans have changed, and COVID-19 changed us in ways we are just starting to recognize and feel the impact.
The pandemic had an incredible impact on the lives of Americans, much of with was felt immediately. Due to fear or health concerns, COVID-19 pushed the boundaries of social interaction. We began to work remotely, disconnected from others professionally and socially outside of immediate friends and family, learn remotely as children of all ages sat on computer screens all day rather than in class, and we began to lean on technology more and more for connection, social interaction, entertainment, and as a means of escape. The pandemic changed the ways we communicate, the ways we cared for our loved ones, the ways we educated our children, the ways we made a living, and the ways we viewed the world. COVID-19 changed our lives, our relationships, and our society. In doing so, with such an abrupt change experienced by all Americans, the pandemic also changed the trajectory of our mental and emotional health, our feelings of safety and security, and our physical and psychological well-being.
To say that mental health issues and substance use disorders have taken a drastic rise since the pandemic began would be a terrible understatement. And to be honest, how could they not? A deadly global health pandemic society has never seen begins to spread across the world in record time. Governments and public health organizations scramble to try to implement measures that keep people safe, only to have to continue to change or update those measures as more information becomes available. Nonstop media images flash on our television screens and phones, detailing the horrific impact. People shelter in place, isolating themselves out of fear, feeling out of control and constantly in danger. This is the traumatic experience that was felt by every citizen of the world. And it lasted for a very long time. And traumatic experiences have a ripple effect that resonates with those who lived through the experience. We are seeing that ripple effect now.
The fallout from the traumatic experience of the pandemic is that we have been changed. Our lives were shaken to the core, and the things that we did to respond to that trauma to feel safe are now impacting us collectively that is detrimental to our overall well-being. The mental health of Americans is suffering due to the impact of the pandemic. We disconnected. We isolated. We lost trust. We cultivated unhealthy behaviors that either brought us comfort or helped us escape the reality we were living in. All of these types of things are exactly the issues and behaviors that can be identified by an individual suffering from addiction or mental health issues. However, this time and in this case, it was society at large. And those behaviors, those maladaptive coping mechanisms, are now continuing to worsen our collective mental health.
How did Americans cope with the fear and unknown of COVID-19? They drank alcohol. A lot of alcohol. They turned to drugs. They shut in and overate. They asked their doctor through a screen to help them with this overwhelming anxiety and depression that they have been feeling, and that doctor prescribed them medication which was often misused or abused. They stopped connecting with loved ones, and instead binge watched Netflix. They spent hours on TikTok, YouTube and other social media sites. They didn’t call or Facetime family and friends as much as they text them or communicated with them via social media. They watched endless 24-hour news cycles as the country became more politically divided, then took out their fear, anger, and frustration on strangers on social media platforms. This is what the majority of Americans were doing for over a year, if not two years. Think of how these types of actions, behaviors, and habits affect someone’s mental and emotional health. There is not a single person who wasn’t terribly impacted by the trauma of the pandemic.
Specifically related to the mental health of Americans since COVID-19, there is little doubt that overall the mental health and emotional health of Americans has suffered. Across the board, surveys show a major increase in the numbers of children, adolescents, and adults throughout the United States who consistently report ongoing symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Coping mechanisms to manage these symptoms are also taking a negative turn, with rising rates of addiction and substance misuse, alcohol intake, individuals seeking prescriptions from medical professionals, suicidal thoughts, overeating, gambling, social media, and other ways to comfort mental health symptoms that traditionally compound over time to increase the problem. Americans, as is often the case, are looking for short-term solutions to manage fear, stress, and other mental health symptoms that in turn will create longer lasting mental health issues. Additionally, the economic impact has negatively affected American’s mental health. Financial fear, insecurity and stress are worsening people’s mental health issues. Finally, the isolation that everyone became much more comfortable with during the early days of the pandemic has continued, creating more social anxiety and avoidance of in-person human interaction and connection. Isolation is a breeding ground for mental health issues and addiction, so the ways Americans are continuing to live their daily lives is creating an unhealthy and maladaptive environment that supports ongoing mental health and substance use disorder issues.
While society has learned to live with or overcome the major issues that COVID-19 wrought on the world, the lingering impact and the way that everyone’s daily lives have been impacted and effecting continues. There are still many challenges to overcome. The stigma of mental health and addiction remains, meaning that more people in need of help are hesitant to talk about it and reach out for services. The political climate and divide taking place in society continues to worse and deepen. More daily interactions between people take place via technology and social media. There are less therapists, counselors, social workers, and psychiatrists, and more and more are delivering services virtually, which allows for more access for clients but still less human interaction.
Historical evidence suggests that the mental health impact of traumatic events such as the pandemic long outlast the physical impact, suggesting that the issues society continues to face related to mental health issues and addiction will only continue to develop and potentially worsen. Therefore, it is important to continue bringing awareness to these issues, breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and addiction so that those impacted will seek help and healing, that society continues to expand services and make them accessible to those in need, and that Americans continue to stay vigilant and persistent to the mental health and substance use disorder needs of fellow citizens, even as the pandemic itself continues to subside and we learn to live with COVID-19.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual-diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (866) 929-4318 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction, and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our website at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.