Mental health concerns grow as pandemic grinds on

OLYMPIA, Wash. — As the pandemic and its related closures drag deeper into 2020, behavioral health specialists warn of even greater risks to our mental health.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee will discuss the topic in a news conference Thursday afternoon.

A monthly report put together by the Washington Department of Health shows concerns about ongoing impacts of the virus. The group predicted months ago that the peak of the behavioral health impacts would be felt six to nine months after the initial outbreak. We’re currently in that time period.

According to the report, “the behavioral health outcomes from COVID-19 for most people are related to experiences of social isolation, fears of the unknowns around further restrictions and economic losses, and stress and pressure related to the balance of childcare and work.”

DOH also warned that as cases climb, there is also a risk of relapses related to addiction.

The state says “every individual and community is affected in some way” by the pandemic. “The unique characteristics of this pandemic are trending towards depression as a significant behavioral health outcome in Washington. This may change dramatically if there is a drastic increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in September and October. In that case, increased symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to fears of illness or death from the virus will likely result.”

The report also says ethnic and racial minorities are experiencing disproportionately more significant behavioral health impacts.

A breakout guide looks at how different groups are affected, including healthcare workers, law enforcement personnel, families and children. You can read that report at this link.

DOH says approximately 650,000 Washingtonians were receiving treatment for behavioral health needs before COVID-19 hit.

The report says the highest risk of suicide is most likely to occur between October and December. “This estimate is based on known cycles of disaster response patterns. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) exacerbates mental health challenges at that time of year due to increased hours of darkness and inclement weather. Winter holidays can also worsen mental health challenges for many people, as they are often an emotionally and financially difficult time of year.”

Suicide rates are also “highly influenced by unemployment rates.”

The report from the state says we’re moving into the “disillusionment phase” of disaster response and recovery. People are more likely to experience depression during this time.

“In September, it is likely that socially disruptive behaviors will continue to be seen on a larger community scale as one expression of emotional burnout due to the length and pervasiveness of the pandemic.”

RELATED STORY: ‘None of us have lived through this'”: COVID-19 causing rise in mental health problems

Even a drop in cases won’t necessarily quell the issues, the report says.

“If COVID-19 cases dramatically increase in the fall months, along with resulting significant social and economic disruption, one of the large-scale outcomes will likely include a trauma cascade.
This is a situation in which parts of the disaster recovery cycle can be repeated or prolonged, during which people may have a reduced ability to emotionally recover from the disaster due to
additional or ongoing impacts on their lives.”

It says an eventual return to “pre-pandemic baseline levels of functioning by April or May of 2021 is anticipated for many people. However, it is dependent on the level of disruption caused by a potential dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases in the fall of 2020 or winter of 2021.”

The report was issued in August; you can read the full document here. 

The CDC has put together a guide for dealing with your mental health and the mental health of others. You can read that here.

PAST COVERAGE: Is COVID-19 impacting your child’s mental health? What can you do to help?