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Teen Health and Safety

A Second National Crisis: Mental Health During COVID-19

Photo: Courtesy of Jan Tinneberg

Because of high level of stress, we are experiencing throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a secondary crisis has emerged: the toll it is taking on our mental health.

With the ongoing tumult of life amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, including varying safety protocols, job loss, health concerns, and many families navigating remote learning alongside work responsibilities, it is no surprise that a second epidemic is forcing its way to the forefront. Data shows that 16 million Americans experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, with a dramatic increase since the outbreak of COVID-19.

According to the CDC, 26 percent of Americans now report experiencing symptoms of depression, compared with 6.6 percent in 2019. The potential for increases in deaths by suicide is no less alarming. According to published research from Dr. Roger McIntyre, chair of the DBSA Scientific Advisory Board, the rapid rise in unemployment because of the COVID-19 pandemic is predicted to result in a 3.3 to 8.4 percent increase in suicides per year. According to Dr. McIntyre, “These results indicate that suicide prevention in the context of COVID-19-related unemployment is a critical priority.”

What can we do?

By being aware of the environment around us, each of us has the opportunity to positively impact our loved ones and community members, even when we are not able to gather as readily in person.

  1. Foster open, honest conversations about mental health. Check on the people around us — even those who seem “fine.” If someone is struggling, listen with an empathetic ear. Most importantly, speak up when you are struggling.
  2. Practice self-care. It is essential to pay attention to how you are feeling and to set aside time for things that help you recharge. This looks different for every person, but can include a walk outside, a phone call with a friend, or enjoying a favorite movie.
  3. Look out for each other. No one is immune to the cumulative impact of these challenging times. In particular, check in with the elderly and those with underlying conditions who may be particularly isolated. Make time to talk with your children who might be struggling with school or missing milestone events. If you know someone lives with a mental health condition, reach out to ensure they have access to the resources they need. A text or phone call can go a long way, particularly during the holidays and winter months.
  4. Utilize the resources available. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)’s COVID-19 support center has compiled wellness tools, self-screening questionnaires, information about accessing medication, and more. Additionally, the CDC has a list of specialized organizations that can assist with elder care, suicide prevention, domestic violence, and more.
  5. Join an online support group. DBSA and other national organizations offer these virtual meetings with trained facilitators for those who need it. More than anything, remember that you are not alone. We are here to help. If you are having thoughts of death or suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK or text DBSA to 741-741. If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
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