On October 24, 2020, against the backdrop of a presidential election, the third wave of COVID-19 hit the U.S.
Americans were already sick. With mental healthcare inaccessible to many Americans and a 35% increase in annual suicide rates from 1999 to 2018 according to the CDC, an epidemic was already festering.
Now, with the additional stressors of COVID-19, Americans are facing compounding mental health challenges. Economic factors such as unemployment, underemployment, wage stagnation, increasing healthcare costs, childcare costs, tuition, and mounting racial inequities in wages and employment combined with political tension and a global pandemic result in acute psychological burdens that have significant downstream impacts on all aspects of health. As Americans navigate these significant stressors, many are also faced with sleep disturbances, social isolation, and loneliness.
In a time of an already pressured and strained healthcare system, the concerns and corollaries of missed diagnoses and delayed treatments present particular challenges for patients and providers. Understanding how chronic disease and mental health intersect and run parallel is important in understanding how the state of illness in the U.S. may be mitigated. One of the first steps should be to overhaul outdated methods of collecting and analyzing data regarding patients’ physical and emotional health. In this way and others, healthcare providers, insurers, patients, and other stakeholders should be preparing for the challenges to come.
A key aspect of effective medical and mental health treatment is patient adherence. As adherence to treatment can be essential to a patient’s survival, non-adherence has long burdened the healthcare system. Many factors contribute to non-adherence, and researchers continue to study it. Understanding and minimizing non-adherence will be essential to providing efficient whole-person healthcare in the wake of 2020’s mental and material traumas.
Loneliness already plagued many Americans prior to coronavirus, social distancing, and quarantine. Cigna’s 2018 study on loneliness determined that most Americans are lonely, and loneliness has increased with each subsequent generation. From March to June 2019, among adults ages 50-80, 41% reported a lack of companionship, 56% felt socially isolated, and 46% had infrequent social contact — a significant increase since 2018.
In 2018, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S. and the second leading cause of death among 10-34-year-olds and fourth among 35-54-year-olds. The annual suicide rate, over time, increased by 35% from 1999 to 2018. In 2019, a reported 12 million adults seriously considered suicide; 3.5 million made plans to kill themselves, and 1.4 million adults attempted suicide. Reports have indicated that the number of individuals who have seriously considered suicide has risen since 2019. With further stressors on the horizon, the problem is likely to compound and intervention is necessary.
No one actor can solve the coming healthcare crisis in the U.S., but working together all parts of the healthcare system can prepare to mitigate the worst of it. This begins with finding efficiencies that keep costs down while enhancing care and outcomes for patients. Large-scale tech applications supported by structural and regulatory reforms will be necessary, but there’s reason for optimism.
The scientific and medical communities have been able to eradicate diseases like polio and smallpox in the U.S. in the past, and with COVID vaccines, we will likely soon tame this pandemic as well. Once that happens, we can shift our focus to the patients who have been deprioritized in the midst of this global health emergency. They’re going to need our help.
Brian Sullivan, PsyD, Chief Scientific Officer at ADoH SCIENTIFIC.
Last Updated January 04, 2021