Doctors: Second wave of mental health devastation from pandemic imminent

Posted at 4:45 PM, Oct 28, 2020

Doctors say a second wave of mental health devastation brought on by the pandemic is imminent and has the potential to overwhelm parts of the mental healthcare system.

“This is going to be a long-haul situation,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of The National Council of Behavioral Health, which offers services to 3,400 local mental health organizations around the country. “I’m certainly hearing from our members that they’re feeling a lot of tension right now.”

In a survey of more than 5,000 people released by JAMA last week, 40.9 percent reported feeling at least one adverse mental health condition including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, tripling to quadrupling rates from one year earlier. And remarkably, 10.7 percent reported seriously considering suicide within the last 30 days.

“We are concerned that these [symptoms] could get worse,” said Dr. Vail Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at the American Psychological Association. “We’re anticipating that we’ll continue to see mental health challenges including an increase in diagnostic categories as this continues if people don’t take active steps to manage their stress.”

One of those major respites has been the outdoors during the summer months. Dr. Wright says as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder more people will stay indoors, losing a source of happiness as Vitamin D boosts energy and mood.

This is all happening as COVID cases across the country increase drastically. This past week 500,000 positive COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States, the most since the pandemic started, which has prompted some states to tighten their restrictions on activities and capacities in restaurants.

The increase also has the potential for hospitals to leave more beds open for patients, taking away psychiatric beds in the emergency room for those who come for treatment.

The shift puts even more strain on the local organizations Ignoglia oversees that have been dealing with funding issues.

“Our members are reporting about a 20 percent reduction in revenue,” said Ignoglia. “You deal with that by closing programs and laying off staff, which then means you serve fewer patients which then means your revenue stays low. So it’s kind of this self-perpetuating problem that we’re having.”

Ignoglia says he has been focusing on the Trump administration and Congress as a source of relief in hopes more stimulus money comes to these programs so this concern does not evolve into something worse.