Editor's Notes

It’s getting nowhere near the level of attention of the coronavirus pandemic itself, but data released Thursday makes it clear there’s another serious health issue about which our communities, state and nation need to become more aware

COVID-19 is contributing to a growing mental health crisis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new data, based on a June 24-30 survey showed, among many other concerning things, that a quarter (25.5 percent) of young adults in the U.S. said they had “seriously considered suicide” in the previous month.

In addition, nearly a third of surveyed Americans overall reported anxiety and depression symptoms and more than one in 10 adults said they have started or increased the abuse of drugs/alcohol during the pandemic.

There are many other disconcerting numbers in this data. Among them:

30.7 percent of people who said they were unpaid caregivers for adults said they have seriously considered suicide.

21.7 percent of people who identified as  “essential workers” said they seriously considered suicide in the month before the survey.

13 percent of respondents said they had started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.

Overall, 40.9 percent of the respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition.

Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at The Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Florida, sent out a lengthy newsletter note about this issue Friday morning,

After I read it, I felt compelled to switch gears for my weekly column and bring this to your attention.

Overall, the study he shared showed that depression, serious consideration of suicide and increased substance abuse are about three times the rate that researchers found in the last quarter of 2019. 

That’s astonishing.

Among the study’s most important point was the need for attention to unpaid caregivers — people who are caring for a sick parent or partner. They are encountering way more stress than we realized and some are not dealing with this added stress in a healthy way.

The survey found unpaid caregivers “had three times the odds of suicidal ideation” in June compared to previous reports, Tompkins noted. 

To get some local perspective on all this, I reached out to Joanne Troutman, president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way and a member of The Daily Item’s community editorial board on Friday morning,

Joanne agreed that many local people are struggling more than ever with these issues. And, she made another important point. With our schools closed since March, the programs and protocols we normally have in place to catch and help with mental health issues among our young people are lacking.

“What’s interesting about this is, everybody locally is reporting declines on referrals because everyone is pretty much keeping to themselves,” Troutman said. “When it comes to kids, for example, schools have been closed since March and student assistance teams aren’t functioning like they normally would.”

On a positive note, Joanne did say she is finding more people willing to talk about their struggles and anxieties than has previously been her experience.

I hope that’s true. This new data has encouraged me to work with The Daily Item news team to do more reporting on mental health issues.

Having people willing to share their stories with us will make that coverage better and richer.

Email comments to dlyons@dailyitem.com.

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