Mental health has become a more openly discussed topic in recent years, which has brought incredible insight on the often-misunderstood psychological conditions that many people grapple with on the day to day. Before the COVID virus spread changed virtually everything that we know about coexisting and progressing within modern society, the public conversation around the identification and treatment of mental health was already growing immensely in its profile and relatability. Now that COVID is a pressing global concern that has affected multitudes of lives, it is easy to argue that the importance of mental health receiving the proper attention and consideration is at an all-time high.
Many experts have expressed concerns about the wellness of those who could be more vulnerable than others to experience adverse psychosocial effects due to the COVID outbreak. The New England Journal Of Medicine points out three main groups of people to be highly concerned about, which are 1) of course, people who actually contract the disease, 2) people who are at a higher risk than usual to be infected, and 3) people with preexisting medical conditions, psychological health issues, or substance use addictions or dependencies. The second category is described as including elderly people, people who have compromised immune function, and people who are living and receiving care in places where multiple people are sharing as a dwelling space (3).
One of the most influential factors of the fallout behind COVID is the many ways it has been affecting peoples’ living arrangements. For example, several people found themselves moving away from the larger cities they had settled in as adults, returning to smaller towns and cities where they grew up to move back in with their families. This type of life change has come from people losing their employment, or from the perceived need to help look after their older family members considering the demands and concerns brought about by the pandemic.
This is particularly relevant when considering the potential effects on the mental health of everyone involved, from the elderly relatives who have a higher chance of contracting the virus than usual, to the people abruptly returning to the place where they grew up, which could be the cause for intense levels of disorientation and frustration. Imagine how stressful it can be for a person who oversaw their own lives, from the workplace to their living quarters to even their previously active social life, to end up being seemingly dropped right back into a bizarre version of the lifestyle they experienced as a child. To get an idea of how dysfunctional this feeling can be for the average adult, imagine the beginning of the Will Farrell holiday movie Elf, when Will’s beloved character Buddy is at least three times the size of his fellow elves in Santa Claus’s fictional North Pole. Just envision Will’s long-legged physical frame being stuffed in a tiny school desk, with his head nearly touching the ceiling. The film plays this visual for comedic effect, but the implications of this phenomenon are tremendous when it comes to considering how this feeling could impact a person’s mental health in this type of scenario.
Then there are the observations that have been made about a slightly younger demographic, namely the young adult stage. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shared that the mental health of young adults has been impacted by several pandemic-related consequences, including the closing of many colleges and universities and in many cases a significant loss of income. KFF revealed that an increased number of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24, specifically 56%, had reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive order. Also, when compared to the full spectrum of the adult age span, young adults are more likely to report their participation in substance use and their dealings with suicidal thoughts. Add this to the observation that before COVID, young adults were already at high risk for poor mental health and substance use disorder without receiving a proportionate degree of treatment, and this set of revelations is reason enough for a significant level of concern (2).
One thing that goes arguably unnoticed when people talk about mental health is its relationship with the usage of drugs. The way that mental health and drugs tend to relate to one another is usually complicated in nature. Substance use can be expected to increase tremendously during troubled times in social history. This trend in behavior gets even more tricky when mental health-related issues get tangled up in the mix. This is true for both those who knowingly manage the complications that come with their existing mental health conditions, and those who could be going through life undiagnosed and unknowingly being impaired by having similar problems.
With that said, an unexpected problem that has emerged during COVID is an actual shortage in drugs, both on the medical level and in the recreational use circuit. Frontiers In Psychiatry reported that at the street level, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing shortages of drug availability, driving up prices for consumers on the black market, and influencing significant reductions in purity (1). This means that if a person decides to deal with the pressures of the pandemic and its effects on their undiagnosed mental health problems by recreationally using drugs, that person will have a harder time finding drugs than before, will likely pay a higher price, which brings about its own level of stress, and might end up using substances that are excessively tainted and impure.
This type of scenario is frightening to think about, but in my opinion, this level of awareness is necessary in these types of times in society. It is important that mental health continues to raise in its profile and that it gets treated as much as possible, so that we can get through these trying and unpredictable times together and come out healthy and safe on the other side.
- Chiappini, S., Guirguis, A., John, A., Corkery, J.M., and Schifano F. (2020). COVID-19: The Hidden Impact on Mental Health and Drug Addiction. Frontiers In Psychiatry, 11:767. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00767/full.
- Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Cox, C., and Garfield, R. (2021). The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. KFF. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/.
- Pfefferbaum, B., and North, C.S. (2020). Mental Health and the Covid-19 Pandemic. The New England Journal Of Medicine, 383: pp. 510-512. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmp2008017.