Many public health experts have issued warnings in recent months that mental health consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing measures required to contain the pandemic will be quite severe in the United States.
“In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears likely that there will be substantial increases in anxiety and depression, substance use, loneliness, and domestic violence; and with schools closed, there is a very real possibility of an epidemic of child abuse,” wrote Drs. Sandro Galea, Raina Merchant, and Nicole Lurie in April on JAMA Network. The authors recommend a number of measures including planning “for the inevitability of loneliness and its [consequences] as populations physically and socially isolate and to develop ways to intervene. The use of digital technologies can bridge social distance, even while physical distancing measures are in place.”
Many Americans also end up lonely and isolated after losing their jobs. An estimated 50 million people have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began.
Our military veterans have been particularly affected by COVID stressors. A briefing by the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) and Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) published in June suggested a rise in the national unemployment rate could be linked to a rise in the number of veterans who die by suicide. Substance use disorder (SUD) among veterans could also be on the rise as compared to pre-pandemic times.
“Veterans—especially the youngest generation of veterans—face unique challenges in finding employment after separating from the military. Due to the extended duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment rates in the general population have increased by nearly 10 percentage points to more than 13 percent since January 2020. The change in the veteran unemployment rate is comparatively smaller; however, the increase in veteran unemployment has exceeded a five percentage point (5%) increase from January 2020.”
The report indicated that for every 5 percent increase in the national unemployment rate, up to 550 additional veterans could die by suicide within the next 12 months. The economic recession sparked by the novel coronavirus could lead to an additional 20,000 vets developing a SUD, according to the MMHPI briefing.
As with the civilian population, unemployment among veterans sharply rose in recent months. “While we do not yet know the extent of any upcoming recession, the veteran unemployment rate in May was 9.1 percent, up from 3.8 percent in March 2020 and 2.9 percent for May 2019, which was among the lowest rates in 19 years,” the report noted.
“The relationships between economic downturns and mental health and substance use
(MHSUD) impacts are relatively well-established,” warned the MMHPI report. Intense stress such as caused by a dire job situation and fears of getting infected while at the same time being isolated from friends and loved ones can be a strong driver for addiction. Many people exposed to this kind of stress develop symptoms of depression or anxiety disorders which in turn are correlated with substance use disorders.
Many members of the US military have also been exposed to highly traumatic events on the battlefield. As a consequence, they may have developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), another strong driver of addiction.
“America made a promise to stand behind the men and women who put their very lives on the line to protect us and keep us free,” said MMHPI President and CEO Andy Keller, Ph.D. in a press release. “None of us are immune to the economic effects of the pandemic, and veterans as a group are at risk for increased rates of addiction and suicide as rates of unemployment rise. We need to prepare now, so we are ready when they turn to mental health providers for help.”
Substance use disorders are complex conditions, requiring a multi-faceted treatment approach including an array of therapies and supportive services that address the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of addiction. Recovery Ways offers a holistic treatment approach to addiction. This means that we focus on the whole person, not just the substance misuse.
Members of the US military can rely on a healthcare program known as TRICARE. It provides civilian health benefits for US Armed Forces military personnel, military retirees, and their dependents, including some members of the reserve. TRICARE includes treatment for substance use disorders.
Recovery Ways is an in-network treatment provider with TRICARE. If you have TRICARE insurance and you or a dependent are struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. For more information, call 888.986.7848.