The rate of addiction and mental health distress has been spiking since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. More people are turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty of this time period. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing that COVID-19 is causing an increase in deaths of despair as a side effect of substance abuse and mental health disorders.
What is a Death of Despair?
A death of despair is essentially a death that is caused by suicide or addiction. The word despair literally means to have a lack of hope, which is a common symptom of mental health disorders that can trigger suicidal thoughts and substance abuse issues.
Anne Case and Angus Deaton are Princeton economists who study the phenomenon of deaths of despair in the United States. Their research has shown that deaths of despair are significantly more common among white Americans between the ages of 45 and 54, who don’t have a college degree. People in this group have shorter life expectancies than other Americans because they have a higher risk of mental health issues.
Case and Deaton have concluded that uneducated, working-class Americans struggle more than other demographics. They’re often dealing with poor health, broken relationships, job instability, and financial hardships. Most people in this population don’t have access to resources or treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders.
These economic issues cause working-class people to suffer in silence, without the help they so desperately need. The education and income gap in the United States is partially responsible for the increased rate of deaths of despair in the working-class population. But since the start of COVID-19, the issue has become even worse.
COVID-19 is Causing More Suicide and Overdose Deaths
The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the entire world. Every person has been affected by this crisis in some way, shape, or form, regardless of age, ethnicity, education level, or economic status. People from all walks of life are dealing with the aftermath of this pandemic.
However, working-class Americans without much education are the ones who are getting the worst of it. According to a CDC survey about mental health trends during the pandemic, more Americans with a high school degree or GED reported having depressive symptoms than people with a college degree.
There are a few reasons for this. On one hand, many working-class people who worked in settings like factories or manufacturing plants lost their job at the beginning of the pandemic, and are having a difficult time finding work. Their unemployment benefits are running out and they’re struggling to make ends meet.
Maybe their parents are also struggling financially, and they have to step in and take care of them. Millions of people have consolidated homes in order to save money, even if the living conditions are less than favorable. Some people aren’t able to afford childcare anymore, so kids are being neglected while their parents are at work.
We also can’t ignore the fact that working-class people are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 to begin with. Most working-class people don’t have the luxury of working from home. Throughout the pandemic, they’ve continued to work in busy environments where social distancing isn’t possible. Data from Gallup found that 71% of people who make more than $180,000 can work from home during COVID-19, compared to 41% of people who make less than $24,000.
All of these factors can contribute to poor mental health, and when left untreated, it can lead to more serious issues like suicidality and addiction. It’s not to say that working-class people are the only ones who are experiencing deaths of despair due to COVID-19. However, people in this group have disproportionately less access to treatment and often struggle with underlying conditions that can lower their mortality rate.
Getting Help Before Your Issues Get Worse
The COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to rage on, and we’re still not sure when we’ll bounce back. Many people who lost their jobs months ago are still out of work, and wondering how they’ll continue to pay the bills. The rate of mental health distress is through the roof right now, which is why getting treatment early on is so important.
You can’t always prevent mental health disorders from occurring in the first place. Life throws us some major curveballs, especially when we least expect them. But you can prevent certain issues from spiraling out of control if you seek help from a professional.
One of the reasons why deaths of despair are increasing during the pandemic is because people are neglecting treatment. Individuals are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol which is causing a spike in overdoses. People are waiting for the pandemic to end, and they assume their mental health and addiction issues will go away when life returns to normal.
The reality is, depression is not something that simply goes away. People who are struggling with depression now will continue struggling long after the pandemic ends. The only way to overcome depression is to get professional treatment before the problem gets worse.
The good news is that there are many evidence-based treatments that are effective for depression. Through a combination of therapy, medication, self-care, and lifestyle changes, most people are able to manage their depression symptoms and improve their outlook on life.
However, not everyone responds well to standard depression treatments. It’s estimated that between 10%-30% of people have treatment-resistant depression which does not improve with antidepressants and other therapies.
TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) is one of the best alternative solutions for people with treatment-resistant depression. TMS therapy uses electromagnetic waves to stimulate areas of the brain that are responsible for mood regulation. Not only can TMS reduce your depression symptoms, but it can also improve your concentration and promote better sleep.
If you’re interested in learning more about TMS at Pulse, call us at (310) 846-8460 to set up a free consultation.