Every May since 1949, behavioral health groups have celebrated Mental Health Awareness Month by spreading the word about the importance of mental health and how it should be observed in equal priority to physical health. It’s something that’s worth talking about all the time, but it gets amplified during this month.
May 2020, in particular, was perhaps the most important Mental Health Awareness Month as the pandemic brought the world to its darkest time in recent memory. With how so many people have been affected by not only the illness but also its social implications, mental health needed to be emphasized more than ever.
One of the most significant facets of mental health during the pandemic is drug overdose deaths, which is a very good reason for Mental Health Awareness Month to exist.
Mental Health Problems During the Pandemic
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the world and saw just about everything shut down, another serious epidemic has been made worse. According to QuoteWizard.com, an insurance data company, drug overdose deaths in America increased by almost 27% from 2019 to 2020. It’s even worse in Texas, where it rose by 34.2% within a year—more than a third.
We bring this up because May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If we can have it our way, every month would be Mental Health Awareness Month, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic that has made mental health an even more crucial topic.
Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide ideation have become bigger problems than ever in America during this time. The US government is being urged to take the matter seriously as these maladies of the mind have been worsened by the pandemic.
Government Funding for Mental Health During the Pandemic
It was stated in a letter to the House of Representatives in April 2020 that mental health organizations needed $38.5 billion to help clinics and treatment providers throughout the country to stay afloat during the pandemic, and an additional $10 billion as a response to the pandemic. But all they got was $425 million in emergency funding at first.
However, the House of Representatives did get the message and allocated around $4.25 billion for mental health and substance abuse disorders as a portion of the $900 billion stimulus package that was pushed out in late December 2020.
It’s the largest funding that behavioral health groups have received in a single spending bill to date, ten times the amount they previously received. It means that the drive to spread mental health awareness during the pandemic has indeed been working.
There has been $175 billion in emergency funding allotted to hospitals and other medical facilities since the start of the pandemic, yet only less than 1% has gone to mental health and substance abuse. While it’s understandable that they would prioritize emergency care directly related to COVID-19, mental health disorders should also be counted as a direct result of the pandemic.
This sort of cost-cutting is nothing new. For instance, states cut $4.6 billion from mental health programs between 2009 and 2013 as a response to the 2008 recession. Even after over a decade, many local mental health programs and community clinics that were affected by these cuts are still trying to recover, and the pandemic is yet another major setback for them.
In any case, every bit of help is a step in the right direction. However, more still needs to be done as that funding, however big it is, may still not be enough to completely address the extent of the damage to mental health that the pandemic has caused so far.
Mental Health and Drug Use During the Pandemic
Data from the Census Bureau suggests that Americans experiencing clinical anxiety or depression rose from 11% in 2019 to 43% in November 2020—a 32% increase within a year. A good portion of these people turns to alcohol and drugs to cope with the worsened social conditions.
America already had an opioid crisis well before the pandemic. The number of overdose deaths took a momentary dip in 2019, which gave hope that efforts from the top to curtail opioid addiction were taking effect. However, the pandemic took that progress several steps back.
For instance, there were 441 overdose deaths in San Francisco in 2019. The following year, that number surpassed 620. There have been similar spikes of overdose deaths in other regions as well. Unemployment and lack of health insurance contributed to opioids being used as a way to cope with the world seemingly falling apart at the moment.
This is made even worse by the social distancing that was mandated to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. This has compelled a lot of people to take drugs in isolation, which increases the chances of overdose deaths due to not having anyone around to tend to them when they overdose, either accidentally or intentionally.
There are statistics related to a growing number of people who have no access to mental health care, despite really needing it. Around 9% of people who say they need counseling have stated during fall 2020 that they don’t have access to it in the past four weeks.
That number then grew to 12%, and the number is growing. This is despite telehealth being prioritized in order to allow people who are socially isolating or quarantining to get counseling and consultation. That initiative has been successful, but it still needs to be made even more accessible.
The thing is even if things get back to normal, they’ll still likely need to get that counseling as life going back to normal doesn’t automatically erase what they experienced. They’ll still need help with recovering from that. But in any case, the increased funding is a good start to what could be a greater priority in mental health, which can help solve a lot of social problems in America.
Mental health awareness can’t be limited to May of every year. The more it’s pushed, the more people will be able to get help for their mental health problems during the pandemic and beyond.
If you are ever in need of counseling and consultation about your mental health, please contact us here at the Broadway Treatment Center