Depression, suicides, opioid overdoses increase in pandemic era

Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, R.N., assistant medical director of emergency behavioral services with Henry Ford Health System,…

Depression, suicides, opioid overdoses increase in pandemic era

Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, R.N., assistant medical director of emergency behavioral services with Henry Ford Health System, who is a doctor of psychology, said the number of people coming to the emergency department with a mental health crisis has increased over the last several months.

“An interesting anecdotal observation is that the patient population now presenting in mental health crisis seem to consist more of those who have never sought help in an ED before as opposed to people we have worked with in the past,” said Peltzer-Jones in an email.

Peltzer-Jones said there has been “alarming increase in people with intellectual and developmental disabilities presenting to EDs during the pandemic.” She said people with these conditions have suffered the most due to the physical distancing needed for safety.

“I have not seen as much attention to this vulnerable population, which is contributing to their increased ED use,” she said. “Families and home providers need more support. This is a population that is struggling right now.”

Carol Zuniga, executive director of Livonia-based Hegira Health Inc., said the high number of ER visits for overdoses makes sense because, while the acuity level of patients served by the agency’s crisis center has increased dramatically, the overall number of people seeking outpatient services is lower than normal years.

“Substance use is worse. It brings us backwards in the opioid fight,” Zuniga said. “Access to services and availability has been impacted as people are choosing not to get into treatment because of social distancing concerns and fears of contracting COVID-19.”

Zuniga said more people are unemployed and are “just hiding it more at home. We are encouraging them to come in for treatment. We know they are having problems because ERs are getting more critical care with serious cases.”

On the other hand, smaller mental health agencies are having financial problems, difficulty finding staff and have had to turn away patients, Zuniga said.

“I don’t know of anyone closing in Wayne County, though smaller agencies are talking about not being able to make payroll and larger agencies are absorbing significant loss,” Zuniga said.

A survey published Sept. 9 by the National Council for Behavioral Health, which represents about 3,000 mental health and addiction treatment providers, found that 54 percent of organizations have closed programs and 65 percent have had to turn away patients. As a result, nearly half have decreased work hours for staff, and over a quarter had to lay off employees.

With the pandemic exacerbating many of the risk factors of addiction — isolation, economic distress, lack of routine — the need for treatment services has gone up significantly, with 50 percent of substance abuse treatment providers reporting a growth in request of their services, according to the survey.

Travis Atkinson, a crisis systems Consultant with TBD Solutions in Kentwood, said a survey on the behavioral health crisis in Michigan showed an increase in mental health problems this year. The 2020 COVID-19 Impact Survey was funded by the Michigan Health Foundation.

“There has been a significant increase in call volume in the suicide prevention hot lines, we found in the survey, but a decrease in crisis services,” Atkinson said. “People are so fearful of going out of the house because of COVID.”

Atkinson said another trend the survey found is an increase in people accessing the mental health system for the first time.

“If a person lost a job, lost a loved one to COVID, they are experiencing new stressors in their life, and it creates a challenge if they never used services before,” he said.

The survey also found people seeking mental health services have increased levels of anxiety, anger, hopelessness, paranoia and other secondary health issues.

“Homelessness has increased due to a lack of shelter space. Our survey has shown a 50 percent increase in the number of persons requiring continuing stay,” Atkinson said. “This is due to a greater acuity when they present for services and the lack of resources.”