Experts Warn of Coronavirus Wave of Mental Health Problems, Substance Abuse

Last Updated on September 27, 2021

man disintegrating

The coronavirus pandemic has left many Americans struggling financially, emotionally, and physically, as they face the side effects of social distancing, unemployment, physical or emotional abuse at home, addiction, and anxiety regarding the health and safety of loved ones. Often, people are left to face these challenging life circumstances without access to adequate help.

Now, mental health experts are warning of a wave of mental health problems and substance abuse issues in the wake of the ongoing pandemic. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half (45 percent) of all U.S. adults say the pandemic has affected their mental health and 19 percent say it has had a “major impact.”1

Although mental health experts say it is normal to feel anxious, lonely, or worried about things amid the uncertainty of a global pandemic, many people may not have the necessary tools and skills to cope, leaving them more vulnerable to substance abuse problems, mental health disorders, or suicidal ideation.

What Are the Mental Health Effects of Coronavirus?

Recent research shows the coronavirus pandemic has caused an increase in mental health problems affecting Americans, including:2

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Substance use disorders
  • Mental burnout/strain among healthcare workers and other essential workers

These mental health issues could also contribute to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, especially as more people grapple with the uncertainty and despair of job loss and financial problems.

According to a report from Pharmacy Times, the recent increase in mental health issues is likely due to widespread fear and feelings of vulnerability regarding the pandemic. Additional anxiety has continued to spread due to worry about the lack of normalcy in daily life, contracting COVID-19 or loved ones getting sick, and how long the social isolation will continue. The consistent COVID-19 news coverage, inaccurate rumors, and conspiracy theories can also cause a great deal of anxiety and emotional exhaustion.3

depressed man on balcony

Who Is Most Vulnerable to Mental Health and Substance Abuse Problems Amid the Pandemic?

Some populations may be more vulnerable to mental health problems and substance use disorders during the coronavirus pandemic. Communities with reduced access to mental health services and other healthcare resources or who face discrimination from healthcare professionals may be especially vulnerable.4

  • People of color – According to the Chief Diversity Officer at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Sherita Golden, M.D., M.H.S., serious illnesses and deaths due to COVID-19 are disproportionately affecting people of color (particularly African Americans) than white people.5 She says this is likely due to common social and economic risk factors, including crowded living conditions, essential work functions, inconsistent access to healthcare, chronic health conditions, and the effects of chronic stress on immunity due to discrimination, income inequality, and institutional racism.

Many Asian Americans are also facing increased racism and discrimination due to misconceptions about the new coronavirus. It has long been known and accepted among mental health professionals that racism and discrimination have profound and lasting effects on a person and can be particularly harmful to mental health.6

Many minorities from other ethnic groups may also face linguistic challenges when trying to seek medical care, mental health services, or addiction treatment, due to a language barrier. Undocumented individuals may also be less likely to seek help due to fears of deportation.

  • Older adults – Older adults are more likely than people of other age groups to develop serious illness and complications if they contract COVID-19, which has led to increased social distancing among this population. As a result, older adults may also experience increased feelings of anxiety and loneliness as they remain isolated from loved ones and caregivers for an extended time.
  • Households with children or adolescents – As many schools have closed, children and adolescents with existing mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, will lack access to key mental health services typically provided at school. This could exacerbate the existing mental health conditions and contribute to self-harming behaviors such as abusing recreational drugs or alcohol as well as suicidal ideation.
  • People who are addicted or are in recovery – People who are currently abusing drugs or alcohol may lack the skills they need to cope with extreme amounts of stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic. They may also be more likely to face discrimination when seeking healthcare services. Additionally, people who abuse drugs and alcohol regularly typically have significant health problems or underlying conditions that may compromise their immunity and ability to fight off an infection such as COVID-19. As a result of these factors, the coronavirus can prevent someone from getting treatment for addiction, but it doesn’t have to.

Individuals in recovery may not face the same physical risks as those who are actively addicted, but relapse is a serious concern, especially with increased isolation, stress, and boredom due to nationwide stay-at-home orders. Many local recovery support groups have transitioned to online meetings during this time, but the lack of face-to-face support could put many people at increased risk for relapse and overdose.

  • Essential workers – People on the front lines of the epidemic, such as doctors and nurses, grocery store workers, and delivery drivers are especially vulnerable to mental health problems and substance use disorders. While healthcare workers are prone to burnout without the added stress of a pandemic, the increased workload, pressure, and a dysfunctional healthcare system all contribute to the increased rates of burnout and mental health problems.

Are Substance Abuse Issues On the Rise Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Many mental health experts are predicting an overall rise in substance abuse due to issues like physical and emotional abuse at home, increased feelings of hopelessness, depression, and despair, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and lack of access to healthcare services. It is not uncommon for people to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope when facing these circumstances.

According to recent research from the Journal of Vocational Behavior, job loss is also associated with increased depression, distress, anxiety, and low self-esteem.7 Not surprisingly, the current unemployment trends are likely to lead to higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide. Models from a Texas nonprofit, Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute suggest that if coronavirus-related unemployment rises to a level similar to that of the Great Recession between 2007 and 2009, an additional 4,000 Americans could die of suicide and an additional 4,800 from drug overdoses.8

Holistic Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction Is Still Available and Accessible

Although the outlook of many experts concerning rising rates of substance abuse and mental health problems is grim, there is hope for those who are struggling. Many drug and alcohol rehab centers have adjusted their treatment practices to provide safer and greater access to those who need it most.

At Nova Recovery Center, we have implemented online IOP, stricter admissions requirements, social distancing practices among staff and inpatient clients, and enhanced disinfecting and hygiene routines to provide safe treatment amid the coronavirus pandemic.

We remain open despite the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. and we are committed to providing safe and effective holistic drug and alcohol addiction treatment. We utilize our ability to test for COVID-19 through a professional lab and adhere to all CDC guidelines to ensure the health and safety of all staff and clients.

Our staff recognizes that circumstances during the coronavirus are especially challenging, particularly for those in recovery or with ongoing substance use disorders, but we are here to help. We offer personalized addiction treatment programs and multidisciplinary treatment for a whole-person approach to treatment and lasting recovery. Our certified and experienced staff is available to help whenever you’re ready. Just call (512) 605-2955 to get started.


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