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One of the starkest challenges countries have faced in generations has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a disappointing impact on health systems worldwide. There have been countless deaths, loss of employment, and separation of people from their families and friends. This widespread devastation has caused intense issues with governments, economies, and societies to destabilize around the globe. Children and young people have become emotionally stunted without stability or opportunities to learn and socialize while businesses booked for bankruptcy, causing us all to suffer at least financially, if not otherwise. 

As people struggled with these unpleasant and sudden changes, their mental health deteriorated. According to Mental Health America, there has been widespread mental distress, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Increases in suicidal tendencies also came into view. Because human behavior is complex and still much of a mystery, it’s difficult to predict how communities and loved ones will react. It appears that it might even be affecting healthcare providers.

People have had different experiences due to the outbreak, and no one has been immune to these as a group. Young people have had to deal with being kept inside more than others which have left them vulnerable, feeling isolated and disconnected. Such emotions made some more anxious and uncertain, while others faced affective or behavioral conditions. Women also have been through the same stress at home – for example, the rate of domestic violence shows that 45% of women have gone through direct or indirect spousal abuse during the initial year of this outbreak.

Mental health needs have grown, but services haven’t been able to keep up. It was more prevalent at the beginning of the pandemic when researchers and other medical personnel had to focus on COVID-19 relief efforts. Social methods such as stigmas didn’t let people go for care during this time, coinciding with poor information about the virus that triggered fears and concerns around the whole thing. On this note, a recent survey by MyBioSource suggests that nearly 30% of Americans don’t want to get into conversations around COVID rules because they fear arguments or losing friends. 

An overall picture of the mental health scenario in the US

As per the current data, 2 out of 5 adult people in the US have symptoms of depression and anxiety. At least one-third of the high school population is grappling with a sense of pessimism and sad feelings. If put together, all this indicates mental health crisis in the nation. Due to the shortage, about 45% of the public cannot access mental health experts. 

COVID and mental health

Before the pandemic, the country was already feeling the weight of the rising cases of anxiety and depression. Things got out of control after the onset of the viral infection. The White House reported two of five grownups developed anxiety and depression symptoms. Its impact has been more striking on certain ethnicities or races. For example, people from Brown and Black communities had been most vulnerable because of a lack of access to proper treatment solutions.

Along with the prevalence of such cases, the shortage of healthcare professionals has only aggravated the situation. JAMA reports that about 149 million people in the US cannot access mental health services due to the low number of mental health professionals. In more concrete terms, 45% of people lack mental health care. According to a study, the country requires to add at least 7,500 healthcare professionals in this area to serve the care demands. In 2019, the government needed to recruit about 6,970 physicians for a nearly 4.3 million lesser population. This comparison can be an eye-opener toward the grimness of the situation.

COVID-19 adversely affected not only the general public but the healthcare providers also. One of the surveys reported that about 60% of resident nurses and medical students and 54% of physicians felt the burnout effect, and more than half of them succumbed to PTSD, depression, and anxiety symptoms. 

The health leaders say that the mental health crisis and shortage of medical practitioners have led to another form of a problem overall, making the public feel the pressure of it all. New Mexico’s internal medicine hospitalist Eileen Barrett refers to this new situation as a shadow pandemic for the HCPs. According to him, the health care service providers are going through a lot.

However, things can slightly improve if the healthcare professionals don’t avoid their real feelings and share their vulnerabilities with their peers. Also, appreciation from fellow physicians can come in handy. WHO also recommends that countries adopt a holistic approach toward mental health concerns to create a safe and protected environment for everyone, including victims of domestic violence, poor economic backgrounds, or others. There is an urgency to be proactive on this front without underestimating the effect of COVID-19 on the people.

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