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As US hits 200k COVID deaths, experts warn of growing mental health crisis

The following excerpt was published on Tuesday by ABC News Correspondent Katie Kindelan:

As the United States crosses the grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19-related deaths, experts are warning about a less visible but worrisome outbreak happening simultaneously: increasingly poor mental health.

More than half of U.S. adults — about 53% — reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the pandemic, according to a nationwide poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. That number is a significant increase from the 32% who reported being similarly affected in March, showing that as the pandemic continues into its seventh month and the death rate continues to climb, so, too, does the toll on people’s mental health.

“Keep in mind that in the U.S., we’ve been kind of in a mental health decline for some years now,” Dr. Rheeda Walker, a psychologist and the author of The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, told Good Morning America. “National reports that have examined mental health have shown increasing stress and increasing anxiety and people feeling increasingly overwhelmed, and that was pre-coronavirus.”

“Coronavirus kind of puts all of that on steroids because of the level of disruption,” she said. “People’s everyday lives have been disrupted on almost every single level.”

Mental health experts have called the pandemic a kind of “perfect storm” for negatively impacting mental health. In addition to the fear, grief and anxiety around the virus itself, the pandemic has brought on for many people financial instability, job loss, isolation, uncertainty around school and work and related political disagreements.

Making the pandemic even more distressing from a mental health perspective, experts have said, is both its all-encompassing nature and the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Mental health symptoms during the pandemic range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of suicide, data shows. By late June, just 13% of adults had started or increased alcohol consumption or drug use to help cope with the pandemic, and 11% of all adults, and 25% of those ages 18 to 24, had seriously considered suicide in the past month, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Two of the populations at highest risk for mental health struggles related to the pandemic may also be the most overlooked when it comes to mental health treatment, according to both Walker and Gurwitch.

Children, who are taking on the weight of a global pandemic, the stress of their parents, the isolation from friends and the uncertainty around schooling, cannot just be thought of as “resilient,” according to Gurwitch, who specializes in child psychology.

People of color are facing both a disproportionate impact due to the coronavirus and the upheaval surrounding instances of racial injustice and police brutality across the country. African Americans, in particular, are already 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress than other races, according to the Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health.

Americans are also coping simultaneously with natural disasters, from hurricanes to wildfires. With that in mind, both Walker and Gurwitch said they and other mental health experts are preparing for a mental health crisis that will last long after the virus is contained.

“What we know about disasters and large-scale traumatic events in general, and a public health emergency is certainly a large-scale traumatic event, is that the mental health issues are often much larger and more long lasting,” said Gurwitch.

“All these things are happening that by themselves are an increased risk for mental health problems,” she added. “Put them together and stir and you’ve got a recipe for huge spikes in mental health.”

If you are in crisis or know someone in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Read the article in its entirety here.

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