Suicide attempts, drug overdoses, and domestic violence also increased during the early months of the pandemic. In this Verywell Mind article, Mindpath Health’s Leela R. Magavi, MD, explains why this is and how to take care of yourself.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, people are seeking urgent medical care for a variety of painful conditions.
In the March-October period of 2020, the mean ER visitation rate for disaster-associated mental health conditions was 2,540.4 per 100,000 visits. This rate was higher than in 2019 when an average of 2,152.3 ER visits out of every 100,000 involved mental health. Researchers also found an increase in ER visitation rates for all drug and opioid overdoses, intimate partner violence, and child abuse and neglect.
Rates of ER visits for mental health conditions, suicide attempts, drug and opioid overdoses, and intimate partner violence peaked between April 3 and May 11. However, rates for suspected child abuse and neglect peaked later into the pandemic, between May 24 and 30.
How the pandemic negatively influences mental health
The pandemic’s mental health strain is at the heart of many of the conditions for which people are turning to the emergency department.
People with pre-existing mental health conditions are finding their coping mechanisms taken away and symptoms exacerbated. Others are exhibiting symptoms for the first time and given limited support, if any.
“Individuals without prior psychiatric concerns are presenting to my clinic with new-onset anxiety and depressive symptoms in the context of psychosocial stressors related to the pandemic,” says Leela R. Magavi, MD, an adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist and regional medical director for Mindpath Health.
In a June 2020 study of U.S. adults from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40.9% of participants reported having at least one mental or behavioral health condition, and 13.3% reported starting to or increasing their use of substances as a method of coping with the pandemic.
“Individuals of all backgrounds and ages are suffering, and now more than ever, we need to come together to advocate for mental health parity in all domains,” says Magavi.
Steps you can take for your mental health
Find a therapist or start a support group
Working with a therapist you trust can help you manage mental health issues, but long wait times and session costs may bar you from seeing one. Online therapy or support groups may be possible solutions.
Forming a healthy, safe space to speak with others can provide an opportunity to work through your feelings.
Be aware of how you spend your time
If you’ve fallen into a routine that bores or depresses you, it can feel harder to shake with limited options for activities. However, ignoring it can emphasize the negative feelings you’re experiencing and perpetuate that mood.
“Taking breaks from reading about COVID-19 or watching the news, and instead spending time exercising and practicing mindfulness techniques, could help individuals decrease ruminative thinking,” says Magavi.
Engage with people in safe ways
Fortunately, there are countless ways to interact with loved ones that don’t require being in the same room. Plan an activity that involves others, like running in a park or walking somewhere you’ll see other people. Whether or not you have someone specific to make plans with, being around others can help your mood and overall well-being.
Celebrate the good
As the pandemic brings pain into so many people’s lives, you may feel guilty celebrating anything good happening. While it’s important to be sensitive to other people’s feelings and experiences, burying anything positive in your life may negatively impact you.
When to visit an emergency department
If you or someone you know struggles with mental health conditions, there are clear signs that an emergency department visit is warranted. You can also enter an intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization program. However, an emergency department can provide immediate relief and protection.
Read the full Verywell Mind article with sources.