eNewsletter - Sept 2020

Mental health and substance abuse: the continued impact of the pandemic
Justin Wolfe, LCPC, CADC, CRC


As deaths due to COVID-19 move toward 200,000 in the United States, behavioral health issues are on the rise. The pandemic — and the social isolation that comes with it —  is leading to an increase in mental health and substance abuse challenges, specifically for adolescents and young adults.

Isolation, anxiety and depression. Compared to 2019, the number of Americans who are living with an anxiety disorder has tripled this year according to a Johns Hopkins study. The data surrounding depression figures are worse, with reports signaling 2020 figures are four times the amount reported in 2019.

Social connection is one of the strongest protections against depression. However, current safety restrictions and precautions recommend keeping young adults apart from one of the things they need most for good mental health: each other.

Spending less time connecting with others means more time alone, more television and more video games. These activities can further increase feelings of disconnection and isolation and increase the need to find new ways to cope.

Mental health issues and increased substance use. In many cases, as people look for ways to cope with increased free time and isolation and loss of social connection or identity, many are turning to alcohol or drugs. One out of every 10 respondents of a June 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey said they have started or increased usage of alcohol or drugs during the pandemic.

The impact of this increase is proving deadly. Early estimates from the CDC report more than 72,000 Americans died from overdose in 2019, and 2020 drug-related death estimates are tracking at 13% above 2019 numbers.

Pressure, disconnection and access to care. While the general stressors of the pandemic, loss of connection and challenges related to income insecurity continue to mount, people suffering from these challenges are finding it more difficult to access the care they need. If young people or their parents lost a job, they may have lost health insurance coverage. Connecting with providers via telehealth may seem awkward or inaccessible. Parents or other supporters may be diverted by their own challenges and less available to encourage them to seek professional help.

Moving forward. Connection to others and feelings of purpose are part of the solution to recovery/navigating this difficult time. Families play a key role in encouraging positive social connections and ensuring that young people who need professional support find it.

As mental health providers, we can encourage good communication among families to assist them to identify problem behaviors and understand the steps they can take to help at home, such as:

  • Providing daily structure
  • Giving positive feedback
  • Spending quality time together
  • Encouraging time for hobbies and interests
  • Finding ways to encourage safe social connections
  • Maintaining regular mental health visits or seeking out help, if needed

Find more resources. Linden Oaks has behavioral health professionals available for consult that specialize in identifying and treating anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Our free behavioral health assessment will help determine if a client may benefit from a Linden Oaks therapy-based day program. To connect with a certified therapist, please call the Linden Oaks Help Line 24 hours a day at 630-305-5027 and one of our assessment professionals will assist.