Everyone’s life has been drastically altered in the midst of this pandemic. The economic hardship, isolation, stress, and loss that it has brought on have had palpable ramifications which are evident in the recent rise in violence, suicide, overdoses, and drug abuse. While Covid-19 has brought some of these issues to the forefront of discussion, the underlying mental health implications are often overlooked. The unpredictability of these times has been inevitable, but the way we cope with feelings of loneliness and the resources we make available to those facing these challenges are very much within our control.
Losing loved ones, a job, or even just the ability to live freely can cause extreme stress and frustration, and those who have resorted to drug and alcohol abuse in the past are left in a particularly difficult situation. In June, the CDC reported that 13.3% of people in the United States began or increased substance use to deal with the emotional effects of Covid-19. The Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program, a tool that tracks national overdose data in real-time, also showed a steep 17.59% increase in overdoses following the enactment of stay-at-home orders, and death due to overdose went up by 50%. Acknowledging these statistics and keeping the general public informed has created some reassurance that there are better times ahead. However, for many dealing with addiction, promises of light at the end of the tunnel may be discouraging when the estimated return to normal life keeps being delayed indefinitely. In the meantime, resources originally dedicated to addiction recovery efforts are being allocated to deal with the current public health crisis (Gold 2020).
While it has been established that the relationship between Covid-19 and increased substance abuse is causative, it isn’t unidirectional, making the lack of resources for individuals in recovery even more upsetting. Substance use disorder has been found to put people with Covid at a higher risk for more serious complications, and these individuals are also more likely to contract the virus in the first place (National Institute 2021). This leaves them in a vulnerable position, but the underlying role of declining mental health which lies at the center of this issue and fuels this cycle has been overlooked until very recently.
The pandemic has ultimately served as a learning experience, and despite the negative impacts it has had, there are signs that society is about to come back stronger and smarter than before. Starting in 2022, the Federal Communications Commission voted to change the suicide hotline to the three-digit number 988, so that there is easier access to this service. Since this is much easier to recall than the current number, this small change has the potential to save countless lives (Stracqualursi, 2020). Additionally, federal agencies have implemented policies allowing for more funding for telehealth services, and Alcoholics Anonymous has begun to offer online meetings (Gold, 2020). These changes also hold symbolic significance, representing the recent and historic recognition of the importance of mental health.
Gold, J. (2020, December 15). Overdoses are increasing in The U.s. OVER Covid-19: Here’s what addiction experts want you to know. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jessicagold/2020/12/14/overdoses-are-increasing-in-the-us-over-covid-19-heres-what-addiction-experts-want-you-to-know/?sh=69d319834ffa.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, February 12). COVID-19 Resources. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/comorbidity/covid-19-resources.
Stracqualursi, V. (2020, July 16). 988 to become 3-digit number for national suicide hotline in 2022. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/16/politics/fcc-national-suicide-hotline/index.html.