The Strain Caused by COVID-19 on the Mental Healthcare System

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The COVID-19 pandemic has a wide range of repercussions, including on mental health. The ongoing global state offered a series of triggers like isolation, unemployment, a generally destabilized economy, perhaps even the loss of a loved one. All of these stressors can set off new conditions or worsen existing ones. This puts the mental healthcare system, an already underfunded field, under a great strain as it is unable to meet the high demand for service.

An Outline of the Mental Healthcare Landscape

Mental health problems are fairly common in our times. However, under qualified medical supervision, some of these can be easily managed. For example, in California, almost every family is affected by a form of mental illness. According to the latest version of the Mental Health Services Act, every year more than 2 million people are affected in California alone. 

Since the onset of COVID-19, more people need guidance and treatment. What is more, some are more exposed than others to mental health risks under the pandemic. For example, sharing a home with a large family, or having a roommate, can limit the available private space. Beyond the basic need for privacy, these can also impede participating in virtual events, like meetings with friends or coworkers. 

The pandemic has deviated the “normal” flow of life. Many people are suffering from economic setbacks due to unemployment or growing medical bills. What is more, social distancing and other measures implemented to halt COVID-19 can serve as stressors that trigger mental health problems or exacerbated existing ones. There is a growing body of academic literature on the implications of the virus on mental health.

A recent study revealed that symptoms of anxiety and depression were reported by 4 out of 10 adults in the US. This is a significant rise, from the 1 of 10 adults that were reported before the pandemic. What is more, general well-being is also affected. Respondents have reported a disturbance in their sleeping, appetite, and increased substance use. All of these elements can have a detrimental effect on both physical and mental health.

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Disruption of Mental Health Services

Therefore, more people require mental health services, but the system is not ready to answer all the calls for help. According to a recent WHO survey, mental health services face severe setbacks in 93% of countries worldwide. This is a sector that was already falling short even before the pandemic hit. The main reason behind this is the limited funding of the institutions and practitioners. The WHO draws attention to the fact that less than 2% of the national health budget is dedicated to mental health. 

The system reported severe interference in offering mental health services for vulnerable groups like children, seniors. What is more, women who would like to consult a mental health physician before or after giving birth find it more difficult to do so. Access to treatment and medication also had to suffer as many institutions do not have the necessary system in place or staff.

Recovery of the Mental Healthcare System

Some states have made progress regarding the mental healthcare system in previous years. For example, in 2004, California passed the Mental Health Services Act to be funded through a 1% tax for personal incomes that exceed $1,000,000. Since then, approximately $15 billion were invested in the sector.

Even if such measures were taken years ago, they set a pillow on which to fall back on during emergencies. Although the physician job market was severely hit by the pandemic, there are numerous California physician employment opportunities available in all major fields, including psychiatry.

While telemedicine has gained ground in many fields, this is not necessarily a viable platform for the more vulnerable patients of psychiatry physicians. Children and older adults may find this solution out of their comfort zone. Furthermore, families with a lower income level might not even have the necessary resources to adopt such a strategy. 


The Aftermath

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic will see an increase in the demand for mental healthcare practitioners, including psychiatry physicians. The road to recovery will be long both for patients and the healthcare system as a whole.