If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, contemplating suicide or is in need of a professional, please contact the above resources for assistance or more information. Graphic by Amy Polovich

COVID intensifies youth mental healthcare inequity

The COVID-19 pandemic has put more strain on an already fragile healthcare system.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I have spiraled in various ways. Granted, I have faced some issues with my mental health before the pandemic, but the ones that happened after March 2020 seem especially vicious and debilitating.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC reported that “symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.”

These statistics are tough to look at, but are also incredibly validating as someone who has dealt with mental health issues. Although we often hear that the pandemic has affected mental health, it was difficult for me to believe it. For a time, I felt like I was simply broken. My problems were a result of my character or genetics, not because of new stressors in my life.

As hard as it has been navigating the pandemic, I was lucky and privileged enough to have the support of my family, both financially and emotionally, during the past few years. I didn’t have to risk my life to make a living. But this meant that I was in slight denial of just how deeply the pandemic affected me.

A few weeks ago, I asked my followers on Instagram whether or not they felt the pandemic had worsened their mental health. Out of 62 respondents, 89 percent voted yes and 11 percent voted no. Of course, this is only an informal survey, but considering that information from the CDC and MHA has reported that mental health has been affected by the pandemic, the results of the poll makes sense.

Val Hinkle, 23, explained why they said the pandemic had not made their mental health worse.

“I said no because I’m autistic and trans, so interacting with most people already feels like a gamble. Also, I graduated and now I work from home, which immensely helped my mental health. College basically killed me.”

Despite how their mental health has improved, they also noted that “the pandemic has been very isolating, and it continues to be. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s been nice to have time away from people, but I still miss people. COVID-19 anxiety is very high because my partner is immunocompromised and COVID-19 would surely [kill] them. But overall [my] mental health is better. [I] wish I could go out and do some more things without fear [of] COVID-19, however.”

The US healthcare system is full of inequities, often meaning the most privileged or wealthy receive the best care, with nearly everyone else falling to the wayside. This is especially true for mental health care services, which are often unavailable to many Americans due to cost or lack of resources.

Mental Health America, a non-profit dedicated to promoting mental health services, recently published a 2022 report about the state of mental health in the U.S. In their studies, they considered how different factors, such as socioeconomic status and race or ethnicity, affect the treatment and outcomes for those who struggle with depression, anxiety and/or substance abuse issues.

For example, they found that, “over 2.5 million youth in the U.S. have severe depression, and multiracial youth are at greatest risk. 10.6 percent of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression (depression that severely affects functioning).”

Hannah Vance, 22, voted yes in the poll. She said, “as an extrovert who struggles with depression, not being able to surround myself with people worsened my depression because I find joy in surrounding myself with others.

“I found it hard to be alone with my thoughts. It also worsened my substance abuse as I looked for something to numb that,” they added.

Mental Health America noted that “the rate of severe depression was highest among youth who identified as more than one race, at 14.5 percent (more than one in every seven multiracial youth).”

The organization also recorded how many Americans had insurance and the number of people who accessed mental health services. They reported that “over half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 27 million adults in the U.S. who are going untreated.” This number has been increasing each year since 2011.

Although the state of American healthcare is dismal, we should approach mental health the same way we do physical health. There are programs in place to help reduce costs of mental health services and some insurances do offer coverage for seeing therapists, for example, but many of these services are still too expensive for many Americans. Not to mention the stigma that still exists for those who seek ways to manage mental illness.

Preventative care matters just as much as emergency care. True self-care — the stuff of boundaries, proper living wages and safe work environments — is what is needed to help people maintain and perhaps even improve their health.

This would mean overthrowing the entire system and changing the way that Americans live their lives, especially when it concerns work, the healthcare system and the way that we take care of each other.

If you are struggling with your mental health, look at the resources below:

For TU students:

Counseling And Psychological Services (CAPS)
Not only do they provide counseling and support groups for students, but the website also features a plethora of resources to help maintain and improve mental health, as well as how to deal with the stress of the pandemic. Contact them at 918-631-2200 or at caps@utulsa.edu. Visit their website here.

For OK Residents:

Mental Health Association of Oklahoma
They provide daily support, podcasts and other information on how to take care of your mental health, regardless of whether or not you struggle with mental illness. They also have several outreach programs such as helping people who do not have housing. Visit their website at https://mhaok.org/ or contact them at 918-585-1213 or at info@mhaok.org.

COPES is a Family and Children’s Services 24/7 mobile crises program dedicated to serving adults and children in psychiatric crises, helping prevent suicide with less-restrictive levels of care. COPES uses a sophisticated phone system and staffing patterns to respond effectively to crises. Contact COPES at (918) 744-4800.

If you or someone you love is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
800-273-8255 or message them at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=onebox

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

Post Author: Hana Saad