COVID quarantines partly to blame for impending mental health crisis, warns expert

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The longer Americans are forced to socially distance and self-quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic, the harder it will be for many of them to maintain their mental health, according to one expert.

Already there is a spike in prescriptions for anti-depressants, insomnia, and anxiety, notes Dr. Roger McIntyre, who is currently a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto and head of the Mood Disorders Psychopharmacology Unit at the University Health Network in Toronto.

What’s coming next is a full-blown mental health crisis if lockdowns continue much longer, given that Americans are already experiencing problems, he told the Christian Post.

“This is the greatest threat on our mental health in our lifetime. A combustible mix of fear, insecurity, and quarantine,” he said. ”We’re very concerned about an increase in suicide, depression, stress and alcoholism [but] with the appropriate social, medical, and individual response we can prevent the [mental health] curve.”

In a new report Express Scripts, the country’s leading pharmacy benefit management company, shows a spike in prescriptions to treat depression, anxiety, and insomnia, which indicates that the continued presence of the disease is already having a negative mental health effect.

The report says:

While COVID-19 makes its monumental mark on the world’s health and economy, new research from Express Scripts reveals it is also making a significant impact on many people’s mental health. 

Our research shows that the number of prescriptions filled per week for antidepressant, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications increased 21% between February 16 and March 15, peaking the week ending March 15, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.

Express Scripts researchers found that prescriptions for anti-anxiety drugs rose 34.1 percent from mid-February to mid-March. That includes a week-over-week uptick of almost 18 percent during the week ending March 15, the greatest spike of the period, the report notes.

Anti-depressant prescriptions, meanwhile, rose 18.6 percent and 14.8 percent respectively from Feb. 16 to March 15.

A previous study published in The Lancet in 2012 found that there was an increase in depression and suicides during the “Great Recession” a few years earlier, which had a huge economic impact on the country.

The same study found that “rising unemployment could account for about a quarter of the excess suicides noted in the USA during this time.”

State-imposed stay-at-home orders also boosted concerns among experts that incidents of domestic violence would also increase, and that, in fact, is happening.

NBC News reported April 5 that police around the country have seen a spike in domestic violence calls:

Of the 22 law enforcement agencies across the United States that responded to NBC News’ request for data on domestic violence calls, 18 departments said they had seen a rise in March. Houston police received about 300 more domestic violence calls in March than they did in February, a roughly 20 percent increase. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police fielded 517 additional calls about domestic violence in March compared to the same month last year, an 18 percent jump, while Phoenix police received nearly 200 more calls, an increase of nearly 6 percent.

The increase in violence is not coming solely from being locked down.

“The financial stress alone creates a ticking time bomb for some families with a history of domestic violence,” Steve Mueller, sheriff of Cherokee County, South Carolina, told NBC News.

His department saw a 35 percent increase in cases in March over February.

“Unfortunately many of these domestic violence cases occur in front of children and often the children become victims of abuse and assault, as well,” he added.

McIntyre says we can avoid a mental health pandemic, but it’ll take effort.

“It’s not a done deal that all these terrible things are going to happen. We can get ahead of it. It’s no different than if I told you there’s a tornado coming at you. It will be there in six hours. You would say ‘thanks for letting me know; I can make the appropriate interventions to protect myself,’” he told the Christian Post.

“We have good reason to believe that this tsunami of mental health problems is frankly already here … let’s get ahead of it and let’s get these things in place now to try and boost the resiliency of people so that they [don’t] succumb to suicide and other stress-related issues like depression,” he added.

Jon Dougherty

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