Mental health issues have become America’s phantom epidemic


The mental health crisis in the United States began long before the coronavirus pandemic, but a year and a half of loss, stress, isolation and disruption of treatment has only increased the number of Americans in the struggling with their mental health.

Why is this important: As demand increases well beyond pre-pandemic levels, the system faces exhausted providers and staff shortages, and even more people who need care are not receiving it.

The big picture: Mental health care was already inequitable and insufficient before the pandemic.

  • But the number of people reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression has skyrocketed during the pandemic and has remained high.
  • Substance use has also increased, and an alarming number of children and adolescents are coming to emergency rooms seeking mental or behavioral health treatment.
  • “The pandemic has created an extraordinary sense of loss in the lives of many people, and it has created abrupt change with great uncertainty as to when that change will end. And it has really turned the lives of many people upside down,” said surgeon general Vivek Murthy in an interview.

Driving the news: A group of children’s healthcare organizations this month declared a national emergency in children’s mental health.

Inventory: Not everyone will bounce back once the stress of the pandemic has passed.

  • “The pandemic has been a source of trauma for many people, and when you think about it in that context, the effects of the trauma take time to resolve,” Murthy said. “And they don’t always resolve on their own – they don’t always resolve by removing the source of the trauma.”
  • “As things start to get back to normal, all of the trauma they’ve been through begins to surface in their lives, and they have to deal with it,” he added. “That’s why I think now is the right time for our country to have a conversation about mental health.”

What we are looking at: Many people with anxiety or depression will do well if they learn effective coping skills or access treatment.

  • But public experts fear that if left unchecked, some people’s mental health issues will only get worse.
  • “All mental illnesses tend to make people more vulnerable to addiction, in part because people find that many of these drugs and substances that can be addictive are helpful in treating the mental health problems they have.” , said Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer. Officer of the Association of State and Territory Health Agents.
  • And not everyone has the same access to care. In fact, some of the same people hardest hit by the stress of the pandemic – such as low-income families or people of color – may be most at risk of not receiving the mental health treatment they need.

The bottom line: We may be coming out of the worst part of the coronavirus pandemic, but we are just beginning to tackle the mental health epidemic that follows.

  • We now have an opportunity to do better than just revert to the situation in 2019, said Murthy.
  • “If we just go back to how we were before the pandemic, we will have lost a powerful and important lesson from this pandemic, which is [that] we need to invest in our mental well-being.