By Judge Joshua Davis Baker, Nashville
Today marks an important milestone in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, as vaccinations are now available to some. This is encouraging news; yet, we still have a long way to go before the world returns to “normal.”
We’re all familiar with the physical health impact of Covid-19 in the U.S. and the world, with over 300,000 deaths here and more than 1.6 million worldwide, and tens of millions falling ill. And these are just the current statistics. They are certain to increase.
In addition to the death toll, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on world economies by forcing the closure of business to prevent further spread. With the business closures, their workers have been either furloughed or permanently laid off, with many of the businesses likely being unable to resume operations whenever the pandemic officially ends. Obviously, this has left many business owners and their workers in fear for their survival and that of their families.
Add into the mix the holidays, a time of year that can be very stressful for some people every year. But this year, traditional family gatherings are discouraged, as are large, indoor, in-person religious services, where social distancing is impossible.
This uncertainty, coupled with the isolation of quarantining, has severely affected the population’s mental health.
According to a study last fall from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the number of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression increased respectively by four and three times in April through June 2020 over the same period the previous year. CDC studies and those from other countries also showed an increased in suicidal thoughts during the pandemic, with a significant increase in adults aged eighteen to twenty-four over prior years, and a fifty percent increase over the same period in 2019. The studies also showed a significant increase in substance abuse in adults as a whole, with the most significant increase in adults of any age who were acting as “unpaid caregivers” for other family members, something many in the world are doing right now as more people contract the virus.
As a person who has struggled with depression and anxiety for years, suffered the loss of family members through suicide, and experienced the heartbreak of suicide attempts by family members and friends, I struggled when reading the CDC report. Further, as a former attorney and now a judge, I know, as we all do, of the high incidence of suicide among those in our profession.
So, I write this article only for one reason: to remind you all to take care of yourselves and those you love; not just physical health, but mental health as well.
If you or someone you love is struggling with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or suicidal ideation, seek professional help or encourage them to do so. Effective local and national resources are available to assist you and your loved ones in these trying times. Most importantly, do not try to face it alone or dismiss the statements of others who express difficulty with mental health or substance abuse problems. Traveling this road alone can be deadly.
If you know someone struggling with anxiety, substance abuse, depression, or suicidal ideation, contact your local health department or mental health cooperative for immediate needs. There are also immediate resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline (800-662-4357) run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In Tennessee you can also call the statewide crisis line (855-274-7471) operated by the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.
In closing, please take good care of yourselves and those around you. We have lost many to this pandemic and its repercussions, and every life is precious.