By Ronald Williams
Chief Clinical Officer
Our country is amid one of the most difficult times in our history. COVID-19 has changed the way that we live in the United States and the entire world. We have added new vocabulary to our arsenals like social distancing, PPE, and flattening the curve. We no longer hug, shake hands, or speak to one another unless we are six-feet apart. We now have markings in the supermarkets that tell us where to stand. Some stores even have one way signs on the floors that indicate which way you should enter the aisle.
Now through all this there are some positives. People are washing their hands like never before; people are sanitizing and wiping down all common areas leaving us smelling the fresh scent of disinfectant. Gas prices are low, and I even got a check back from my car insurance company.
With all the issues and concerns throughout this pandemic, one of my biggest concerns has been about the mental health and other social conditions that people are dealing with during this difficult time. Social distancing (staying home) has become a necessary way for us to flatten the curve. However, the reality for some is that there is no home to go to. I encounter people that have no place to live on a daily basis. People that cannot begin to practice social distancing because they are too busy practicing how to survive. To make matters worse for the homeless, most shelters have stopped allowing any new persons into their facilities.
Domestic violence also presents a problem for victims who must stay home. Having to isolate with a person who abuses you with no reprieve must be one of the most helpless and hopeless places to be, not to mention dangerous. While speaking with a police officer I learned that domestic violence calls have increased during the last sixty days by at least thirty percent in his district alone by his account.
Unfortunately, with domestic violence also comes child abuse. These difficult times have placed a great deal of emotional and financial stress on parents, stress that many times will manifest in abuse to the children. At Edgewater Health we work with many parents who are working diligently to acquire skills necessary to raise healthy families. However, we are seeing that this pandemic has greater emotional impact on those who are already in vulnerable situations.
Social isolation is also especially challenging for persons who are struggling with mental health and substance abuse problems. Many people that have mental health conditions are having an especially difficult time. Depending upon the diagnosis, it may be worse for some than others. Persons who have issues with depression who may now be forced to isolate are experiencing major setbacks in their treatment.
I sometimes think of how difficult this time has been for me and my colleagues; how anxiety provoking it has all been. People are concerned about their physical health as well as their financial wellbeing. This must be very difficult for someone who already struggles with depression, anxiety, or paranoia.
CNN reported that the National Public Health Group estimates that as many as 75,000 Americans could die of suicide related to drug or alcohol misuse. The group made the estimate based on the growing numbers in unemployment, the economic downturn and stress caused by isolation.
The interesting point to note here is that these numbers are based on potentially new cases of abuse or suicidality. So, when you combine those numbers with the existing numbers of Americans that have preexisting conditions, the numbers are staggering. The bright side here is that many of the strict privacy standards along with relaxed rules associated with telehealth has allowed greater access to individuals in need of treatment. Northwest Indiana is a public transportation desert and telehealth has allowed us a great resource to combat that.
We have found that people are very receptive to telehealth services. I would encourage that we take a hard look at how technology has allowed us to expand services to people who would not have otherwise had the means to access services during this time. I would also urge that we learn from this experience and look at how technology can help us to better serve vulnerable communities post COVID-19.