By Michael Genovese, MD, JD, Chief Medical Officer at Acadia Healthcare
Our communities are experiencing challenges from the COVID-19 virus unlike any seen before. It’s a physical healthcare crisis that requires multiple solutions in real time.
As behavioral healthcare providers, we need to have a two-pronged approach. In the short term, we must prepare to take on patients who have nonacute needs where beds are available to allow our medical and surgical hospitals to focus on those who have tested positive for COVID-19.
We then must prepare for a surge of our own.
This is truly an unprecedented time. In the midst of turbulent uncertainty, we have historically seen an increased need for psychiatric care. The physical fallout from this pandemic will affect thousands, if not millions, across the world. But the mental and emotional toll – amid job loss, stock market volatility, and extraordinary social precautions – will be even greater.
In my 19 years in behavioral health, I have seen our society overcome global and economic crises, from 9/11 to the H1N1 swine flu outbreak, the 2008 financial crisis, and several natural disasters. But none of these devastating events has as much potential for far-reaching and sustained psychological and economic impact as COVID-19.
Those who have existing mental health concerns, particularly anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), may find their symptoms exacerbated. And for those who hadn’t previously displayed symptoms, fears of how to make ends meet, a potential recession, and concern over the continued toll of the virus can spark the development of other mental illness.
In Portland, Ore., police saw a 23% increase in calls for threats or attempts of suicide in the first 10 days after the city’s state of emergency declaration. Suicide hotlines nationwide are reporting similar spikes.
More than 47,000 Americans died by suicide in 2019, and 1.4 million attempted suicide. Nearly 70,000 died from a drug overdose in 2018. California and Washington, two of the states hit hardest by COVID-19, are among the leaders in overdose deaths. All of this data comes from a time frame when economic conditions were largely positive.
It may not be apparent right away, but mental health and addiction treatment in a post-pandemic world will be essential.
Behavioral healthcare providers like Acadia Healthcare will play an even larger role than usual in helping people endure through psychiatric peril.
In these unusual times, the idea of seeking out appropriate treatment might seem even more daunting. That’s why services like Treatment Placement Specialists® (TPS) exist. TPS is a team of behavioral healthcare professionals that helps support families, clients, and clinicians who are seeking comprehensive mental health or addiction programming.
As we navigate toward an uncertain financial future, it’s helpful to take advantage of free services – even something as small as an online yoga class or e-learning course. TPS is a complimentary resource as well, doing the legwork of finding optimal treatment that leads to the most positive recovery outcomes.
This pandemic has forced us to press pause on so many aspects of our day-to-day lives that, ultimately, can wait until tomorrow. We will eventually be able to dine out at restaurants, visit libraries and museums, and attend concerts, movies, and sporting events again.
But mental illness and addiction don’t suddenly go on hiatus. As bedrocks of the behavioral health community, with opportunities to help those most in need during this uniquely trying time, we must endure as well.
And we will.
Michael Genovese, MD, JD, is chief medical officer for Acadia Healthcare, an international behavioral health network headquartered in Franklin. Genovese is a clinical psychiatrist and addiction specialist. In addition to his role at Acadia, Genovese is also the medical director of the Officer Safety and Wellness Committee of the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA), helping to equip first responders with the tools they need to withstand, recover and grow following repeated trauma. A diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, Genovese also serves on the CMO Corporate Council of the Joint Commission, seeking to optimize quality and safety in healthcare.