Impact on mental health, addiction recovery as things go back to normal

As more Americans get vaccinated and life returns to some degree of normalcy, experts weighed in on the impact the pandemic has had on mental health and addiction.

The pandemic brought on the perfect storm when it comes to mental health and addiction as the onset of symptoms, such as social isolation, economic stressors and grief, are all factors many Americans have experienced.

For many, the pandemic brought on struggles with mental health when they never struggled before, according to Morgan State University Associate Professor Dr. John Gallagher.

“It’s those that maybe have never experienced significant mental health symptoms, meaning mental health symptoms that have had a negative impact on their functioning, their family relationships, their marriage, their intimate relationships, their hobbies, social life, work performance, school performance,” Gallagher said. “It’s those that the onset of mental health and addiction symptoms that occurred during the pandemic are most at risk for feeling confused. Helpless and hopeless.”

Gallagher said it is unfortunate, but not surprising. Now, professionals have to be prepared to help people cope with mental health symptoms they may have never treated before, as grief coupled with the complexities of the pandemic, is something new to navigate.

“And we don’t know psychologically, we don’t know from a mental health lens, how people cope with grief, without being able to maybe go to a funeral, to have a funeral for their loved one to grieve in the way that maybe their family norms or culture, their family traditions have allowed them to,” Gallagher said.

Research showed the number of adult Americans who have experienced symptoms of depression or anxiety has increased, according to Gallagher.

“Prior to the pandemic, about one in 10, so 10% of adults in America reported experiencing depression or anxiety symptoms,” Gallagher said. “Well, towards the end of the pandemic, research has shown that it’s about four in 10 adults in America have reported depression or anxiety symptoms. So we’ve seen a 30% increase in two of the most common mental health symptoms that we treat—anxiety and depression.”

It is not just struggles with depression or anxiety, either. Gallagher said rates of child abuse and neglect have climbed, along with domestic violence and drug overdoses, even here in Michiana.

The message from public health officials to socially distance, while  could have potentially been devastating for mental health recovery, according to Gallagher.

“From a public health standpoint, that makes perfect sense. It's very effective, but from a mental health standpoint, that message of social isolation, social distancing can be devastating for someone’s well-being,” Gallagher said. “So getting back to some normalcy, I think is going to be very helpful for folks from a mental health recovery and mental health treatment standpoint.”

For those navigating a new normal again, Gallagher advised people to stay genuine to who you are and follow what you are comfortable with. Gallagher suggested revisiting friends, family or hobbies people were interested in prior the pandemic.

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For more information on dual diagnoses for mental health issues, click here.

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