The COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented effects on our nation and global community is dominating headlines, but there’s a quiet crisis brewing under the surface that is not getting critical attention, yet. The pandemic is having a deep and less visible influence on our mental health and emotional wellbeing. If ignored, this emergent crisis could impact individuals, families and communities for decades to come.
While flattening the COVID-19 curve is extremely important, I am deeply concerned about this “second curve” that is quickly developing. As an advocate for the importance of physical and mental wellness for overall health, and someone whose family has been personally impacted by the devastating effects of mental illness, we must urgently work together to shatter the barriers preventing individuals from accessing mental health care.
We are living through unprecedented times of social distancing, isolation and economic uncertainty, which is causing a correlated increase in stress, anxiety and fear. CVS Health has seen a rapid rise in virtual mental health visits since March 1, as well as substantial increases in calls for help with psychological distress including anxiety, grief and loss, and trauma. Prescriptions for medications to treat depression and anxiety are on the rise.
This is particularly evident among frontline health care workers and research has already shown some of the debilitating impacts. Data from Wuhan, China shows that 50 percent of health care workers involved in the COVID-19 crisis reported at least mild depression.
Other members of our community are also being uniquely strained by this situation. Essential workers who help keep us safe and ensure basic services are at an increased risk for infection and report feeling deeply concerned, anxious and scared, according to the Harris Poll. Losing one’s job is also one of the top ten most stressful life events, so the estimated 22 million people who have filed for unemployment benefits already, and those who could lose their jobs in the coming months, are a top concern.
According to the CDC, eight out of ten coronavirus related deaths in the U.S. have been in adults aged 65 years and older. Due to their increased risk contracting the disease, social connections are perhaps even more limited and restricted than the general population. A 2020 study conducted prior to the coronavirus outbreak found that 43% of adults aged 60 or older report feeling lonely. The risk of isolation and loneliness, paired with a heightened sense of worry about the disease itself, puts the senior population at an even higher risk of depression and mental illness during and following the pandemic.
So how do we begin to tackle this challenge? We know early intervention is crucial to achieving better health outcomes in the future.
To begin to address the nation’s unprecedented mental health needs, I’m proud to announce that CVS Health is launching a nationwide effort focused on health care workers, essential workers and employees who have been furloughed or laid off. We’re bringing our deep history of providing resources that promote mental wellbeing to serve and support those who need it the most.
But we know we can’t flatten the second curve alone. We are expanding access to care at no cost by partnering with leading mental health resource organizations such as Crisis Text Line and Give an Hour to leverage their provider networks in offering both urgent support as well as longer term counseling to those battling the hidden effects of COVID-19.
For our own employees, particularly those working on the front lines, we’re offering increased support through various resources that help individuals build mental health resilience, cope with uncertainty, reduce stress and stay connected. We’ve also implemented a new emotional health support service that will be available to all employees. We believe it is our responsibility to support our employees in managing their whole health as they face a variety of personal and professional challenges. We’ve seen other major corporations, such as Walmart, begin to act in this space and we encourage all companies to follow suit.
For our members, particularly seniors, we are increasing social connectedness outreach for those most at risk for social isolation and increasing our Resources for Living program. These resources include food, prescription, and meal delivery services, wellbeing and emotional support, and helping individuals stay connected during social distancing, among others.
As I know from my own experience, one can feel at a loss for how to help our loved ones who are suffering from mental health issues. We’re calling on the public to show collective support during this terribly difficult time and shatter the existing stigmas around mental health by taking action and sharing mental health resources on social media. The more we share, the better we will be positioned to tackle this crisis.
The time to act on flattening the second curve is now. CVS Health will do everything we can to battle and eradicate the invisible COVID-19 mental health crisis. Please join me in making this a priority.
US Dept of Labor, 22 million unemployment benefits as of April 16 (WSJ)
Wuhan China data: 5.Brooks, M 2020, COVID-19: Striking Rates of Anxiety, Depression in Healthcare Workers, Medscape, 26 March, accessed March 2020
The Health and Medical Dimensions of Social Isolation and Loneliness in Older Adults, The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, accessed April 2020
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