Michigan braces for long-term effects of COVID-19 on mental health
COVID-19 has taken its toll on the mental health of the Michiganders, and few families have been left unharmed. As of December 1, nearly 1.5 million Michiganders had contracted the virus and more than 25,000 had died. When the pandemic is finally over, its effects on mental health are expected to last for the long term. Many Michigan communities, mental health professionals and researchers are already looking for ways to prepare for this inevitable.
“In the short term, we’re seeing an increase in depression and anxiety in particular, up over 5% over the past year. Normally, about 36% of Americans suffer from anxiety and depression. Now it’s almost 42%, ”says Kevin Fischer, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Michigan (NAMI-MI). “The long-term impacts on mental health, especially in young people, could be … a lot of depression and anxiety, unfortunately an increase in suicidal ideation and an increase in substance use disorders, such as the opioid epidemic we were already facing. pre-COVID.
Preschool, elementary and lower secondary students were particularly affected.
“As a society, we underestimated the impact it would have on young people not being able to get together with their friends, not being able to go and play games or go to the park,” said Fischer. “An unintended consequence is the trauma that young people have gone through. We really encourage parents not to ignore this and just assume that it will go away. Get professional help, if needed. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.
Fischer notes that social isolation during the pandemic has also increased the risk of depression and suicide among older people, especially if they have lost a spouse.
“We really encourage family members to stay in touch with their parents, grandparents, etc. He said. “Check them frequently. “
“This problem is beyond COVID”
Wayne State University (WSU) researchers Dr Wassim Tarraf and Dr Peter Lichtenberg examined how race, occupation and socioeconomic status intersect with the stress, depression and anxiety associated with the pandemic. Using data from the US census to select study participants, they asked individuals about changes in mental health every two weeks throughout the pandemic. They found that people of color carry the heaviest mental health burden.
“This problem goes beyond COVID. It has been brought to the fore by COVID, ”Tarraf said. “These are historical and structural issues, and they require concerted, long-term efforts to achieve fairness and potentially free us from the weight of group differences that we have historically seen here in the United States.”
Dr Wassim Tarraf.
Perpetrated by institutional racism, social determinants of health Such as lack of access to food, jobs, housing, quality education and transportation are proven factors of poor physical and mental health, as witnessed by communities of color.
“If there is an interruption in the fragile improvement in the economic outlook that we have seen, it could have major impacts,” Tarraf said.
In January 2021, the COVID impact study of Tarraf and Lichtenberg reported that 65% of people experiencing food insecurity or job loss had mental health issues.
“I think we need a lot more serious studies to look back and see what worked,” Tarraf says. “Understanding this is going to be key to focusing mental health resources – and not forgetting the most vulnerable. These are the groups, the individuals, who are potentially at greatest risk of having a long-term impact in terms of mental health problems. “
Rural Michiganders with limited incomes also face higher risks
In the upper peninsula, the Portage Health Foundation (PHF) funds community projects that support the health and wellness of residents of all ages living in Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties. PHF CEO Kevin Store agrees that the social determinants of health also play a huge role in the mental health of communities in this region.
“We work with many social service organizations within the community in many areas, whether it is early childhood development, education or organizations that help the elderly and aging,” explains Store. “The question is, how do we deal with this to mitigate and build the resilience that our community and citizens need to recover from? “
As PHF and the community organizations it partners with assess the long-term effects of COVID on mental health, they are also looking for ways to address these social determinants of health. For example, Store shares that rates of food insecurity in Houghton County fell from 13.9% (before the pandemic) to 18% in 2020. He expects that number to increase dramatically when data from 2021 will be available.
“It all fits in with all of these other mental health anxieties and stressors that are being created. And it’s magnified because of COVID, ”Store explains.
In addition to addressing the social determinants of health – and the systemic racism that exacerbates them within communities of color – it’s equally important to ensure that all Michigan residents have access to mental health care. Since 2015, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has been working on this by creating a network of certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHC) where residents can access care, regardless of their ability to pay or their health insurance status.
“We now have 34 CCBHC. It’s huge, “Fischer says.” I literally refer to this as a game changer. ”
MDHHS has also embarked on improve the response to mental health crises with the launch of the Michigan Crisis and Access Line (MiCAL), which provides phone, chat, and SMS support to Oakland County and UP residents facing mental health or substance abuse crises. A state-wide regional deployment is planned by fall 2022. MiCAL is the first part of a three-part plan that also includes mobile crisis first response units and emergency response units. stabilization of physical crises, where people facing urgent mental health or substance abuse crises can seek help.
The Michigan Department of Education has established socio-emotional learning goals (SEL) for schools and provided software support which enables school districts to expand mental health services. Telehealth and telepsychiatry also removed barriers to accessing care, especially in areas lacking mental health professionals.
Additionally, as individuals, Michiganders can take steps to maintain their own sanity. What is good for the body is also good for the mental health. Fischer and Tarraf advise people to exercise, eat well, avoid alcohol and unhealthy behaviors, and get enough sleep.
“Get in touch with people by phone, Zoom or whatever. Engaging in activities that anchor the individual in the present… reestablishes a sense of control when you have a lot of uncertainties, ”says Tarraf. “And something that we tend to exaggerate [is] being sucked into information vortexes. Look for just enough information, and information that is valuable and trustworthy.
Defenders of the store extend a little cuteness.
“It may seem like an oversimplification,” he says. “But I think somewhere in the last couple of years, somewhere along this road, in this time of stress and angst that we’ve all been through, we’ve lost a little of that ability to be nice to them. to each other, to extend a little grace and a little patience.
And while COVID-19 has somewhat reduced the stigma surrounding mental illness, Fischer still sees stigma as the main barrier preventing people from seeking the help they need.
“Behind this stigma is the knowledge of how to access high quality behavioral health care. Even though the state of Michigan spends over $ 3.5 billion a year on our public behavioral health care system, most people ignore it completely, ”he says. “We need to do a better job of raising awareness and then making it easier for them to access this care. “
A freelance writer and writer Estelle Slootmaker is happiest writing about social justice, wellness and the arts. She is the development news editor for Fast growing medium and L’Arbre Amigos chairs, Wyoming City Tree Commission. His greatest achievement is his five incredible adult children. You can contact Estelle at [email protected] or www.constellations.biz.
Photo of Kevin Fischer by Doug Coombe. Photo of Wassim Tarraf by Nick Hagen. Kevin Store photo courtesy of Kevin Store.