Sadness, fear, worry, or other emotions can affect us during or after tough situations, like dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of a family member or friend, or experiences related to racism. Dealing with these challenges can weigh heavily on your mental health, and recent data suggest this is the case for many who have sought professional help with their mental health since the pandemic started.
Increases in mental health-related ED visits
Recent research suggests that some racial and ethnic minority groups have been more affected by mental health challenges related to the pandemic. According to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, these groups had significant increases in emergency department (ED) visits for new and existing mental disorders during and after a COVID-19 case surge.
- Asian adults had increases in the number of visits for most of the mental disorders that the study looked at, including a 21% increase in ED visits with depression during a COVID-19 surge.
- American Indian and Alaska Native adults had increases in the number of ED visits for multiple mental disorders after a COVID-19 surge, including a 42% increase in trauma and stressor-related visits.
- There was a 24% increase in ED visits for bipolar disorder among Hispanic adults and a 14% increase in trauma and stressor disorder-related visits among Black adults after a surge.
Mental Health Impact of Stress
It’s natural to feel stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during challenging times. Feeling strong emotions or being stressed can have negative effects on your health. Stress can cause the following:
- Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration.
- Changes in appetite, energy, desires, or interests.
- Problems concentrating or making decisions.
- Nightmares or problems sleeping.
- Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, or skin rashes.
- Worsening of chronic diseases and mental health conditions.
- Overeating or not eating enough.
- Increased use of alcohol, illegal drugs (like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine), and misuse of prescription drugs (like opioids).
Healthy Ways to Cope with Stress
Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will help you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient. You can help yourself, others, and your community manage stress in the following ways.
- Take breaks from news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed, but constant discouraging information can be upsetting. Consider limiting news to just a couple of times a day and disconnecting from your phone, TV, and computer screens for a while.
Take care of your body:
- Get vaccinated and stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products. Eating well also means limiting saturated fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.
- Going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends, can help you sleep better (adults need 7 or more hours per night).
- Move more and sit less. Every little bit of physical activity helps. You can start small and build up to 150 minutes a week that can be broken down to smaller amounts such as 20 to 30 minutes a day.
- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
- Limit alcohol intake. Choose not to drink, or drink in moderation (one drink a day for women, two for men) on days that alcohol is consumed.
- Avoid using prescription drugs in ways other than prescribed, taking someone else’s prescription, or using illegal drugs. Treatment is available and recovery starts with asking for help.
- Avoid smoking and the use of other tobacco products. People can and do quit smoking for good.
- Continue with regular health appointments, testing, and screening, especially those for cancer.