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Rise in suicides and drug overdoses during COVID-19 pandemic underscores need for better mental healthcare

Domestic violence, economic distress, failed relationships, unemployment, health, setback in business; drug abuse and alcoholism are factors that drove people to take the extreme step.

PRESSURES OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

“Social distancing measures, though vital to stop the spread of Covid-19, leads to isolation from loved ones. People are at greater risk of anxiety, depression and loneliness. It could lead to fear, panic, regret, guilt, a sense of loss or despair. Such emotions can lead to suicidal thoughts,” says Dinesh Dutt, the head of the psychiatry department at Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, Shimla.

Domestic violence, economic distress, failed relationships, unemployment, health, setback in business; drug abuse and alcoholism are factors that drove people to take the extreme step.

PRESSURES OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

“Social distancing measures, though vital to stop the spread of Covid-19, leads to isolation from loved ones. People are at greater risk of anxiety, depression and loneliness. It could lead to fear, panic, regret, guilt, a sense of loss or despair. Such emotions can lead to suicidal thoughts,” says Dinesh Dutt, the head of the psychiatry department at Indira Gandhi Medical College and Hospital, Shimla.

“One of our suicides we had just barely missed,” said Oliver Morris, operations commander for the Los Alamos Police Department, who had conducted countless checks as an officer for almost 17 years. Like many other Americans during the pandemic, the person had begun to work remotely, Morris said, and his co-workers asked police to check on him.

“Technologies like the ODMAP program help us understand emerging data on both fatal and nonfatal overdoses in various regions in the country are really helping us get an earlier view of where there may be clusters of overdoses,” said Dr. Wilson Compton, the deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal scientific research institute.

The nation’s suicide rate reached historic highs prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, with rates at the highest levels since World War II. Economic and social pressures this year have heightened the risks, worrying experts, health officials and lawmakers.

study in China found that nearly 54% of 1,210 respondents “rated the psychological impact of the outbreak as moderate or severe,” while a Kaiser Family Foundation survey in April found that 45% of adults in the United States said their mental health has been negatively impacted during the pandemic.

Stress, isolation, and loss of employment are some of the many reasons health officials believe there will be a continued increase in overdoses, said Adm. Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“COVID also affects those who are highly vulnerable, minorities, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, people who we know because of the social determinants also bear a lot of the disproportionate burdens of substance abuse,” Giroir said during a July 23 virtual discussion presented by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Addiction Science.

Compared to overdoses, the exact number of suicide increases during the pandemic is less documented due to the lag in data.

Suicide mortality rates that were rising over the past two decades combined with the current pandemic are a “perfect storm,” found a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in April. Factors include economic stress, social isolation, reduced access to religious services, overall national anxiety, increased firearm sales and increases in health care provider suicides.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR SO WE CAN TAKE Lessons from past pandemics and recessions:

1) Change in routine, eating and sleeping less

2) Lack of energy or feeling tired

3) Feeling of hopelessness or feeling overwhelmed

4) Restless, agitated, nervous, and irritable

5) Withdrawal from family and friends

Prashant Tambe
Prashant Tambe
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