Why we must address the mental health effects of the COVID-19 crisis

The onset of COVID-19, and a possible second wave, will result in a vast number of New Yorkers suffering from some type of emotional or mental trauma. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-in-ten people have been or will be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their life.  The unfortunate reality is that this disorder does not discriminate based on age, race, gender, or life circumstances.

The Problems:

  • Every day, healthcare professionals are exhausting themselves on the front lines. Now more than ever, they face the ever-present fear of becoming infected themselves and losing their own lives. These frontline workers face daily stresses of caring for the vast numbers of patients coming into emergency rooms while maintaining the lives of those being kept alive in ICU’s, all in addition to threatened supplies of the equipment necessary to safely help patients. Furthermore, the tremendous emotional pain of witnessing the loss of so many lives, young and old alike, takes a devastating toll on their emotional health. The thought of this occurring again in the Fall without mental health support services is tragic.
  • Also at risk are our community’s first responders. Police officers, firefighters, and paramedics spend their days responding to the effects of this pandemic, putting themselves at a higher risk of contracting the virus. At the end of March, an NYPD official appearing on CNN estimated that over 15% of the force had the virus at that point, and many more contracted it after that. Members of law-enforcement are already predisposed to developing PTSD, with studies finding that over 30% of this group will be diagnosed at some point in their lives. The added mental trauma of this outbreak on our first responders is substantial, and we must have support services available in response.
  • Another vulnerable group is the adolescent population.  Under ordinary circumstances, adolescent depression and suicide rates are high. Now, they face added stresses of worries over themselves or their parents going into dangerous work situations. In addition, they are home alone using teleconferencing to complete schoolwork, missing many important milestones in their life and facing increasing concerns for what this virus’ impact means for their future, both in the short-term and long-term.   
  • Non-essential workers who are not permitted to work and are quarantined at home, the elderly, many of whom are isolated with no ability to connect to the outside world and frequently suffer from depression, and parents struggling to get resources for their children with disabling conditions – all deserve help.
  • Domestic violence incidences have increased, meaning in-home violence is more frequent, severe, and dangerous. Throughout the world, there have been reports of an increase in abuse, especially in circumstances where some level of abuse has already occurred.
  • Therapists are struggling to bring online care to patients due to restrictions and reimbursement issues.

Even after a vaccine for the coronavirus has been developed and the population inoculated, the psychological and emotional anguish caused by COVID-19 will be felt for many years to come.

THE SOLUTIONS:

  • Strongly encourage both private and public insurance companies to include substantive mental health coverage for those affected by the coronavirus.
  • Develop Centers for Post-Traumatic Stress.
  • Establish an organized behavioral health disaster response; improve screening and assessment of traumatic stress and traumatic stress-related conditions. 
  • Provide critical support to the frontline healthcare workers who continuously put themselves at risk each day to protect us.
  • Provide mental health services for those in the community struggling with trauma, anxiety, isolation, and grief over the loss of loved ones.
  • Offer services for victims of domestic violence to help remediate the abusive situations. Hotlines, church groups, social service agencies should consider this population a priority.
  • Manage the anticipated surge in patients seeking mental health services by training primary care providers and personnel engaged in Employee Assistance Programs (EAP).  They can begin identifying and treating patients to avoid further mental distress.  By increasing the knowledge base of those in the health and allied health positions, we will increase the manpower necessary to provide lifesaving services.
  • Obtain financial support for these professional training programs by encouraging private foundations and corporations to increase funding for training programs as one of their priority initiatives.