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Mental health concerns on the rise as pandemic drags on

The pandemic has shaken the world up and it's taking its toll on people's mental health nationwide.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — According to the CDC, the average number of people who took medication for mental health reasons was 15.8% In 2019. That same average is now 24%.

"No matter what your age is, no matter like, what stage of life you are, the pandemic has affected everybody. Obviously, the entire system has been shaken up and that's one possible reason why people are experiencing more anxiety and depression," said Huntsville Hospital Adult and Geriatric Psychiatrist, Dr. Senthil Rajaram Manoharan. 

One of the more specific things that contributes to this anxiety and depression that is felt all across the nation is fear of the unknown.

Rajaram says, "First and foremost there is, you know... there is absolute uncertainty as to what is happening; every few months a new variant, something new is happening, there is another surge, right? And there is also this whole unpredictability component like as to what is going to happen."

There's also this issue of not being able to compartmentalize our lives like we used to, pre-remote working and schooling that is, Rajaram says, "There's been a blurring in workspace and home space, like some people have to juggle between so many different responsibilities, and which one to put ahead of the other."

Speaking of remote learning, Rajaram also expresses concern about the lasting effects this may have on one particular group... grade school children. 

"They have missed several months of schooling and education. so the lack of social and cognitive development over time is something that we need to see how it has impacted them."

As well as long-lasting effects in adults, "Secondly, substance use problems. People are resorting to more alcohol and substance use as a way to cope."

According to the Alabama Department of Mental Health, between 2018 and 2020, approximately 2,500 Alabamians lost their lives to drug overdoses and it seems as if this trend is on an upward slope.

"People presenting to the ER with overdoses has raised exponentially, it has gone up. That's been one of the biggest worries that psychiatry who is working in the inpatient and the ER, we are facing," said Rajaram.

One reason for this increase in overdoses is quite simple: more people are spending more time alone.

"People are living alone and they're overdosing on medications. We don't have anybody to call 911, that's been a huge issue."

Other cases may involve the mistreatment of or the accidental overdosing of prescription drugs.

"People overdosing on opioid medications, on benzodiazepines, that has gone up so much."

With more and more physicians concentrated on addressing the pandemic - there are fewer physicians addressing this issue.

So, one of the best solutions to this increasing rise in mental health issues is really checking in with yourself and your loved ones before someone is in crisis mode.

Rajaram further explains, "Instead of being in a crisis, an emotional crisis and going to the ER, people will have to recognize those subtle little changes; changes in sleep, changes in mood, even they're having difficultly going through an acute problem or a crisis and to seek help."

Due to the pandemic, Rajaram also said that mental health services may continue to move in a more remote route, making services more accessible especially during times of a surge.

"So obviously, access to mental health care, at the primary care level has gone down and that's one of the reasons why Telehealth is going to play a big role in addressing this crisis," said Rajaram.

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