Perhaps you heard about the woman in Oklahoma City who was arrested on suspicion of shooting a fast-food worker and injuring others.
Gloricia Woody tried to enter a McDonald’s restaurant that was closed because of COVID-19 concerns. After the irate woman was forced outside, she returned with a handgun and an unreasonable urge to fire it, hitting an employee in the arm.
We could learn little more about her. So for all we know she could be a perfectly nice lady, and her outburst could be utterly unconnected to the mental and emotional stress so many Americans are enduring because of coronavirus restrictions.
But the conclusion is awfully hard to discount.
And things are expected to get worse before they get better. Those stresses aren’t going to automatically vanish after COVID-19 releases its grip.
A poll conducted more than two weeks ago was the first wave of the COVID Impact Survey, by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, for the Data Foundation. About two-thirds of the Americans surveyed said they felt nervous, depressed, lonely or hopeless on at least one day in the past week.
You think the coronavirus health emergency is bad? Brace yourself for a national mental health emergency that an underfunded mental health system will have to confront.
“That’s what is keeping me up at night,” said Susan Borja, who leads the traumatic stress research program at the National Institute of Mental Health. “I worry about the people the system just won’t absorb or won’t reach. I worry about the suffering that’s going to go untreated on such a large scale.”
Findings have been jarring. As reported in The Washington Post:
“Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. A federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered a more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year. Last month, roughly 20,000 people texted that hotline, run by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”
What we’re seeing in part is one of the pitfalls of government-mandated social distancing orders. Such orders are a sound strategy for maintaining physical health. Mental health, not so much. Forced isolation can cause depression, increase despondency and deepen existing mental health problems in people who can’t access the treatment they could reach only months ago.
Making matters worse is the stress of job loss. The Department of Labor reported that the U.S. unemployment rate climbed to 14.7% in April, its highest level since the Great Depression. Years’ worth of prosperous job growth — gone.
And, students whose school year were cut short likely will be returning to classes with more mental health needs.
Help is coming. The emergency coronavirus package passed by Congress included $425 million to boost care for mental health and substance use disorders.
But even before COVID-19 hit, Republican lawmakers nationwide had been making mental health a priority, seeking to expand or reform programs. According to a Washington Post analysis, in the first 10 months of last year, the country’s GOP state lawmakers had proposed 5,372 bills that mention “mental health.”
It’s about time that more attention was given to the need for mental health care and more dollars are being put towards the cause.
Before the Georgia General Assembly’s legislative session was cut short, lawmakers added $25 million for school counseling, But the budget has yet to be approved by the state Senate. And students whose school years were cut short likely will be returning to classes with more mental health needs. If legislators can’t increase that amount, they should at least not cut it.
That will be a tall order, considering Gov. Brian Kemp is asking for 14% austerity cuts across the board. But the concern over his constituents’ mental health still is on his radar.
When rightly defending his decision late last month to gradually open some businesses as COVID-19 runs its course, Kemp pointed out in a Fox News interview that his decision was weighted in part by considering the stress shouldered by business owners with locked doors.
“We are talking about a few businesses that I closed down to help flatten the curve,” he said. “But for us to continue to ask them to do that while they lose everything, quite honestly, there are a lot of civil repercussions of that, mental health issues.”
Kemp’s prudent move likely stopped mental health risks from worsening. As for the risks that still exist, Georgia should brace for a mental health crisis and, more importantly, enact a comprehensive plan to confront it.
But with the state experiencing sharp revenue shortfalls, is it a crisis Georgia can afford to fight?
Can Georgia afford not to?
An editorial from The Augusta Chronicle, Georgia.