Expert Health Articles

Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19

The mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt by nearly everyone in our community. During the past two years, the Family Resource Center of Northwest Ohio has seen a 21 percent increase in adult and a seven percent increase in pediatric mental health evaluations. Forty percent of local adults have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. Nationwide, up to one-third of adults with mental health diagnoses have been unable to access adequate mental health support during the pandemic. These effects are not limited to those suffering from mental illnesses. Large percentages of those caring for people with mental illnesses are also suffering from symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. Burnout amongst first responders and essential personnel is endemic.

In order to effectively combat the spread of COVID-19, and to decrease the emergence of new variants, widespread uptake of the vaccines and booster shots is critical. The Health Department and local pharmacies provide free COVID-19 vaccinations. Vaccination dramatically decreases the rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Increasing our vaccination rates will help to transition COVID-19 from a pandemic to a manageable disease.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association have all declared that the mental health crisis due to COVID-19 is a national emergency. Mental health related visits to emergency rooms have increased 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 years old, and 31 percent for youth ages 12 to 17. More than 140,000 children have lost either a parent or grandparent due to COVID-19 deaths. Hispanic youth are almost twice as likely white youth to have lost a parent or grandparent to COVID-19. African American children are 2.4 times as likely to have lost a parent or grandparent to COVID-19 as are white children, and Native American children are 4.5 times as likely to the same statistic.

Each of us can work to improve our personal mental health. Pay attention to your nutrition. Try to eat fresh or frozen fruits and/or vegetables with every meal. Avoid fast foods and overly processed foods as much as you can. Minimize sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened beverages. Drink plenty of water. Consume alcohol in moderation. Avoid vaping, smoking and other illicit drugs. Make sure to get enough sleep every night. Turn off electronic devices 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime to let your body prepare for sleep. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.

Do not underestimate the impact of social isolation and loneliness on your mental health. Keep up with friends and family. If you can gather safely, try to do so on a regular basis. If not, FaceTime and virtual get togethers provide meaningful interaction as well. Ask for help if you are feeling down. Friends, family and spiritual leaders are all good resources. If you feel that you are in danger of harming yourself, call The National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800.273. 8255. The local Crisis Hotline is 888.936.7116, or text HOPE to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Talk to your health care provider if you are feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is neither shame nor guilt in asking for help. The Family Resource Center and Ohio Guidestone (formerly A Renewed Mind) provide mental health and substance use treatment services to all ages. FOCUS and NAMI of Hancock County provide additional support for people seeking recovery as well as their families, friends and allies. Other online resources include Hancock Helps (www.hancockhelps.org) and the Recovery Resource Guide on the ADAMHS website (www.yourpathtohealth.org). If the COVID-19 pandemic, or any other life circumstance, is making it hard for you to function, please reach out and ask for help.

Ami Orr, MD
Blanchard Valley Pediatrics