There's a Rise in Mental Health Issues, So Why Are Fewer People Reaching Out?

How to take care of your mental health during COVID-19.

Posted May 20, 2020

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of our society—including our mental health. When unexpected change comes barging into our lives, whether it’s an unexpected loss, a financial challenge, or any other disruptive event, it can trigger a domino effect of negative stress responses in our body that lead to physical, mental and emotional imbalance. Right now, many of us are feeling that imbalance. Our daily routines have been upended, we’re forced to isolate from friends and family, and we aren’t able to do things that helped us stay in a positive mind frame in our lives. Therefore, if you have felt “off” lately, know that you are not alone. In a recent poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 56 percent of American adults claim that worry or stress directly related to the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. Participants reported issues with sleep, appetite, and even an increase in drug and alcohol use.

There is a well-known correlation between stress and substance use, and countless studies have shown a clear connection between isolation and psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress symptoms. It’s common for people to self-medicate with alcohol or other substances, especially now when many of us feel lonely and scared, and are searching for ways to cope.

That’s why, as the owner of a treatment center, I was surprised to learn that the number of folks reaching out to our facility for help with mental health issues, drug addiction and alcohol abuse has significantly decreased since the onset of COVID-19. Between January and March, at a time when we expected a higher number of contacts, my staff saw a 25 percent decrease in phone calls to our office. Our stats show a decrease in overall website activity, too. Between February and March, our Google traffic history showed considerable decreases in the number of people searching for certain terms related to treatment:

  • Searches for “rehab center” decreased by 50.1 percent.
  • Searches for “Anxiety Treatment" decreased by 69.1 percent.
  • Searches for "Depression Treatment" decreased by 68.6 percent.
  • Searches for "Drug Rehabilitation" decreased by 50 percent.

So, why are we seeing fewer and fewer people seeking treatment despite the undeniable rise in mental health issues during this pandemic? I think it’s largely due to the fear of the unknown. We don’t know how long the pandemic and stay-at-home order will last, or how it will impact our finances and health, and it’s left many of us feeling stuck. We are uncertain of how to move forward and it's keeping us from reaching out for the support we need. 

Reaching out for help is never easy, even when there aren’t social distancing rules in place. Between the social stigma that continues to exist around mental illness and our own personal resistance to expressing vulnerability, it can feel daunting to admit that we need therapy or rehab. Research shows that most adults in the U.S. who struggle with depression do not receive treatment. Instead, they suffer in silence. We often downplay mental health challenges because they are easier to hide or ignore than physical health problems are. Plus, depression typically robs us of energy, so the very idea of reaching for the phone and contacting a treatment facility can feel like an insurmountable task.

What you may not realize is that many treatment centers, including my own, have quickly pivoted to offer telehealth services as a way to connect with patients during this time. Telehealth allows you to receive healthcare services remotely, so you can have meetings and appointments with your clinician or provider through your phone or a video conferencing app. So, from the comfort (and safety) of your own home, you can still connect with a mental health professional who can help guide you through these uncertain. Telehealth had become more common, even before the outbreak, and I imagine that it’s here to stay. It’s incredibly convenient. Many clients have received support and experienced positive change through online rehab for mental health, addiction, and dual diagnosis.

There is no better time to prioritize our mental health and well-being. My hope is that each and every one of us takes an honest and proactive approach to our mental and emotional health right now, as it’s common to slip into old habits or negative patterns when we are in isolation and adjusting to changes. We can all come out on the other side of this time feeling renewed, rather than depleted.

Check Psychology Today’s directory of therapists for a professional near you.

References

Kirzinger, Ashley, Liz Hamel, Cailey Muñana, Audrey Kearney, and Mollyann Brodie. “KFF Health Tracking Poll – Late April 2020: Coronavirus, Social Distancing, and Contact Tracing - Economic and Mental Health Impacts.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, April 28, 2020. http://www.kff.org/report-section/kff-health-tracking-poll-late-april-2020-economic-and-mental-health-impacts-of-coronavirus/.

Brooks, Samantha K., Rebecca K. Webster, Louise E. Smith, Lisa Woodland, Simon Wessely, Neil Greenberg, and G. James Rubin. “The Psychological Impact of Quarantine and How to Reduce It: Rapid Review of the Evidence.” SSRN Electronic Journal, 2020. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3532534.

Olfson, Mark. “Treatment of Adult Depression in the United States.” JAMA Internal Medicine. American Medical Association, October 1, 2016. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2546155.