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A “second wave” of COVID-19 mental health devastation is imminent, experts say

NEW YORK (CNN) – As the world struggles to manage the initial waves of death and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is mounting evidence accumulating that “a second wave” linked to rising rates of mental health and ailments substance use may be under construction, according to an article published Monday in the medical journal JAMA.

“A second wave of devastation is imminent, attributable to the mental health consequences of COVID-19,” wrote authors Dr. Naomi Simon, Dr. Glenn Saxe and Dr. Charles Marmar, all of New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. .

“The magnitude of this second wave threatens to overwhelm the already frayed mental health system, leading to access problems, particularly for the most vulnerable.”


This second wave of mental health, the researchers suggested, will bring additional challenges, such as rising deaths from suicide and drug overdose, and will have a disproportionate effect on the same groups as the first wave: Blacks and Hispanics, the elderly, minors. socioeconomic groups and health professionals.

“This entity of death in a short period of time is an international tragedy on a historical scale,” the authors said. “This interpersonal loss is compounded by social upheaval.”

Of central concern, the authors wrote, is “the transformation of normal pain and distress into prolonged pain and major depressive disorder and post-traumatic health disorder symptoms.”

A pain that lasts longer

Prolonged bereavement, which affects about 10% of bereaved people, is characterized by at least six months of intense desire, worry, or both, with the deceased; emotional pain; solitude; difficulty re-engaging in life; to avoid; feeling life has no meaning; and increased risk of suicide. These conditions can also become chronic with further comorbidities, such as substance use disorders, the authors said.

The 10% suffering from prolonged pain is likely an underestimate for pain related to deaths from COVID-19, and each death leaves about nine family members in mourning, the authors said. This means that 2 million people are expected to mourn in the United States and “therefore, the effect of deaths from COVID-19 on mental health will be profound.”

Of particular interest to the authors are the psychological risks to health care and other essential workers. “Supporting the mental health of this and other essential workforce is critical to being ready to handle the recurring waves of the pandemic,” the authors said.

COVID-19 is already affecting mental health

The pandemic has already brought with it a mental health crisis, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a new report found that Americans are experiencing more coronavirus-related mental health problems than people in other countries.

Data from the CDC survey reported that nearly 41% of respondents are struggling with mental health problems resulting from the pandemic. The problems are linked to the pandemic and the measures taken to contain it, including residence orders and social distancing.

Nearly 41% of respondents reported one or more behavioral or mental health conditions, including substance use, symptoms of depression, or suicidal thoughts.

The number of Americans reporting anxiety symptoms is three times the number in the same period last year, according to the CDC, and several studies have shown that the pandemic has hit blacks and other people of color the hardest.

The pandemic has also put a strain on health care workers, according to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. National analysis of at least 6.7 million insured caregivers by the association found that 26% of unpaid caregivers trying to reconcile work and family due to COVID-19 feel more stressed and have worse physical health than a before the pandemic.

NYU authors suggest the solution will require more mental health funding; widespread screening to identify those who are at highest risk; primary care physicians and mental health professionals who are trained in treating people with prolonged pain, depression, traumatic stress, and substance abuse; and diligent attention to families and communities, creatively restoring the approaches they have used to manage loss and tragedy over the generations.

Suicide Prevention Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Crisis hotline

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Statewide / Salt Lake County Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • Utah County Crisis Line: 801-691-5433
  • Wasatch Mental Health Crisis Line: 801-373-7393
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ Teens: 1-866-488-7386

Resources online

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