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Mental health issues are on the rise during pandemic

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – State health officials report mental health issues are on the rise across the country, especially among children. However, there is no significant jump in the number of suicides or overdoses during the pandemic. 

The Utah Department of Health has been studying the effects of the pandemic on mental health issues, and that report shows the effects may not have been as severe as people expected. 

The report finds Utah didn’t have a significant increase in deaths from mental health problems. For example, officials report the number of deaths from overdoses was stable through the first 39 weeks of 2020, and were consistent with death counts in 2019 and were lower than in 2018.

This doesn’t mean that mental health problems have disappeared. A report from KHN shows the number of kids going to emergency rooms across the country for mental health concerns jumped 24% between mid-March and mid-October.

In Utah, doctors report they’re seeing the same trend, and many more children are coming to the hospital for emergency treatment.

Emergency doctor Marion Bishop said, “We’ve seen increased substance abuse and sometimes families and kids have food insecurity. We’ve seen increased depression, increased anxiety.”

Bishop told KSL’s Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry that ERs will always accept people looking for treatment and that no one should be afraid to go there if they feel they’re in crisis. She believes there are many more Utahns heading to the ER that wouldn’t have gone there pre-COVID.

“That’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is a societal thing that we’re all going through that is really larger than any challenge most any of us have faced in our lifetime,” Bishop said.

Counselors believe kids can feel the pressures their parents, favorite teachers, and other adults are going through.

Clinical Mental Health Counselor Chuck Sharp said there is a dramatic increase in the number of people reaching out for help in Northern Utah.  He reported many young people have lost loved ones because of the pandemic, but they mostly say lack of social interaction is bringing them down. 

“Touch and our social interactions are important with young people. In fact, most of their personality development happens at a very, very young age.  So, this lack of social contact and distancing does have a dramatic impact on children.”

Zoom meetings and FaceTime are helpful, but Sharp said there really isn’t any good substitute for comfort contact.

He said, “That’s why I think it’s so important that parents and providers become aware of that, and that schools become aware of that.”

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts needs to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.