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The Mental Health Crisis of America: COVID-19

Rising number of COVID-19 cases soon to reach 10 million, the impact reaches even greater numbers, and how mental health hangs in the balance.

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This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

With the United States nearing 10 million cases of COVID-19, the repercussions on the mental health of Americans are, frankly, depressing. A recent study suggests that adults with a COVID-19 diagnosis are at nearly twice the risk of developing a new psychiatric disorder, including clinical anxiety, mood disorders, and insomnia. A recent report from Johns Hopkins Hospital notes that the extended duration of this pandemic is a leading cause for emotional strife, something myself, and many Americans can attest to with repeated exposure to traumas this year. 

As the number of COVID-19 cases climbs to nearly 3% of the United States population, the death toll also rises. At nearly a quarter of a million, more Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19 than in the Vietnam War four times over. With these substantial figures comes insurmountable emotional consequence. 

In comparison to all other acute health events, COVID-19 survivors are far more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder. Roughly 5-8% of Americans who have survived COVID-19 develop a new psychiatric disorder, a number approaching 1 million. A large portion of these cases fall under the umbrella of anxiety disorders and it remains unclear whether individuals are likely to develop comorbid posttraumatic stress as a result. Scientists also determined that COVID-19 survivors may be 2-3 times more at risk of developing dementia.  

To be sure, individuals with other long standing mental health issues have been long ignored. However, the COVID-19 crisis only highlights this issue and emphasizes the need for community mental health workers such as occupational therapists to address the many ways that our daily lives are impacted. COVID-19 has upended routines, typical socialization, cultural events, and more for Americans across the country. An interdisciplinary approach to healthcare for patients diagnosed with COVID-19 and those who experience secondary impact has been shown to improve the implementation of individualized and comprehensive care.   

The adverse mental health impacts of COVID-19 are not singular to those who have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. COVID-19 has had devastating effects on the daily lives of many Americans, including sweeping unemployment, financial and educational disruptions, as well as disturbances to social, religious, and familial gatherings. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical association estimates that for every death related to COVID-19, 9 family members are left bereaved. In consideration of the current number of COVID-19 deaths, that leaves upwards of 2.1 million people grappling with COVID-19 related grief in the United States.  Nearly 10% of bereaved individuals are at risk of developing prolonged grief disorder, a chronic and devastating diagnosis that often correlates with substance use disorders. 

Along with the rising cases of COVID-19 comes the rise of a national mental health crisis. Data related to COVID-19 is in the preliminary stages and more evidence is needed to signify the magnitude and longevity of the psychiatric and mental health consequences of COVID-19 for Americans. In the midst of an immensely consequential year for the United States, the mental and psychiatric health of the country hangs in the balance. The impact of COVID-19 is ever-expanding and the emotional toll continues to rise as millions of Americans face the new challenges of grief and anxiety, among others. With the emergence of new healthcare challenges comes an urgency for clinicians to meet the public need, and interdisciplinary healthcare teams are equipped for the occasion through collaboration and clinical support.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). CDC COVID Data Tracker. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html. 

Dundin, A., Siegert, C., Miller, D., Ouchi, K., Lakin, J. R., Bernacki, R., & Sciacca, K. (2020). A pivot to palliative: an interdisciplinary program development in preparation for a coronavirus patient surge in the emergency department. Journal of Emergency Nursing.

Gelfand, A. (2020, November 10). COVID-19’s lasting toll on mental health. https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/11/10/covid-19-toll-on-mental-health/. 

Gemelli Against COVID-19 Post-Acute Care Study Group Post-COVID-19 global health strategies: the need for an interdisciplinary approach. Aging Clin Exp Res. 2020;32(8):1613–1620. doi: 10.1007/s40520-020-01616-x.

Simon NM, Saxe GN, Marmar CR. Mental Health Disorders Related to COVID-19–Related Deaths. JAMA. 2020;324(15):1493–1494. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.19632

Taquet, M., Luciano, S., Geddes, J., & Harrison, P. J. Bidirectional associations between COVID-19 and psychiatric disorder: retrospective cohort studies of 62,354 COVID-19 cases in the USA. Lancet Psychiatry.

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