It’s virtually impossible to be alive today and not have a close family member or friend who’s been adversely affected by COVID-19. Even in countries like New Zealand, which have sealed themselves off from the pandemic, my family and friends tell me that life has changed. Everyone seems to spend some part of each day with a heavy heart.
Experts from top research companies around the world warn of a second public health crisis that is lurking in the background. An ever-present risk of illness, together with financial stressors from job loss and the economic downturns, stand ready to haunt us. We can sense even what we cannot see.
Rates of mental illness affect one in five people. 46.6 million Americans suffer from mental illness, especially young adults. Diseases include depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance use disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others. Health care expenditures and disability benefits cost the U.S. more than $317 billion annually.
As of May 2020, the World Health Organization reported increased rates of mental health symptoms in communities around the world.
“Around the world, there is a mental health crisis that is not fully understood and absolutely not fully addressed,” said Kabir Nath, president and CEO of Otsuka North America. “When you overlay the disruption and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on top of this, the negative impact is compounded exponentially.”
Even when the virus is brought under control, its impact on mental health may take years to mitigate. After the 2003 SARS epidemic, people directly affected—especially our front-line health care providers—showed significantly higher rates of burnout and posttraumatic stress in the months following the outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was a mere foreshadowing of what we need to look out for in a world with COVID-19.