The director of psychiatry at The Westchester Medical Center Health Network’s (WMCHealth) Behavioral Health Center tells Patch that just as the concerns over the dangers of the coronavirus begin to wane, a serious public mental health crisis is quietly taking place.
Dr. Stephen Ferrando says that an uptick in cases of drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety disorders and severe depression are undeniable. Perhaps even more troubling, Ferrando says a marked rise in the number of serious suicide attempts among adolescents and young adults has reached a breaking point.
“There are times when our emergency rooms are bursting with kids who are suicidal,” Ferrando said. “We are also seeing a significant number of inpatient mental health admissions involving young adults.”
The end of the school year is a notoriously tough time for high school and college students. Ferrando suggests that a fraught time of year combined with the added stresses and isolation from the pandemic, has in some cases led to disastrous results.
While adults may turn to substance abuse as a means of coping with anxiety and stress, teenagers have a tendency to withdraw. The expert on coronavirus-related mental health disorders notes that although students may have found it easy to avoid difficult situations, both academically and socially, when the pandemic limited in-person school, the consequences of that avoidance becomes impossible to ignore as tests, final grades and graduation requirements become immediate concerns.
Ferrando also explained that adolescents and young adults place an oversized importance on matters of social status and a sense of belonging. In a world changed by the pandemic, these interactions have increasingly taken place on social media, which can, at times, be a cruel place to develop social skills.
“We hope that getting past this end of the school part of the year will offer some relief,” Ferrando said. “Summer will mean more in-person activities and that should lessen some of the strain.”
While many of the mental health issues associated with COVID-19 can be linked to the stress of returning to work or school and relearning how to interact with other people, Ferrando’s research suggests there may also be a more physiological cause for some of the more severe COVID-19-related mental health issues doctors are seeing.
“COVID-19 psychosis has gotten a lot of attention of late,” Ferrando said. “It’s a phenomenon that is being seen around the world. Patients are being hospitalized with delusions, manic mood disorders and paranoia. As the virus penetrates the nervous system, we see these symptoms as an inflammatory response in the brain. Even in asymptomatic patients.”
Ferrando is the lead author of two studies on the subject, published in the medical journals “Psychosomatics” and the “Journal of Psychiatric Research.” The studies offer new findings that point to additional, non-traditional symptoms of the COVID-19 virus and its impact on the brain.
“COVID-19 was initially thought to be a respiratory disease,” Ferrando explained. “However, with increasing clinical experience worldwide, it is now known to be a multi-system illness impacting the lungs, heart, blood, digestive system and brain.”
Author: Jeff Edwards
Title: Health Experts See COVID-Related Suicide ‘Crisis’ Among Young