Just weeks ago, NYU asked many of us to leave our dorms. COVID-19 was spreading rapidly and soon transformed the city into the next epicenter. Many students, myself included, reacted in a frenzied manner to pack up all our belongings, find transportation and get out, not to mention those who had to figure out ways to stay. As the virus swept into NYU study abroad sites and into New York City, it became less distant and more threatening, potentially impacting the people in our lives. I’ve recently grown worried for my professors at NYU New York’s main campus and NYU Florence, the most recent epicenters of COVID-19, and how they’re handling this situation. But I’ve also grown fearful for how the virus could impact my future employment, since some economists note this pandemic will place the U.S. into a recession worse than the housing crisis in 2008 — and I know I’m not alone in the fears I’m facing.
This concern is widespread. It’s understandable, in fact quite normal, that many people are beginning to crack from the effects of COVID-19 on their daily lives. However, what’s confusing is the healthcare system’s refusal to change its mental health care policies that make it difficult for individuals of lower socioeconomic classes to receive healthcare coverage. With the emergence of COVID-19-related suicide, it’s inexcusable that the federal government isn’t acting to help deal with this problem. The federal government needs to create more accessible options to mental health resources, because in one way or another, the pandemic impacts everyone.
Effects on mental health like these due to the coronavirus situation are widespread. According to a recent poll, 53% of women and 37% of men claim that COVID-19 is hurting their mental health. These rates tend to be higher for women, Black and Hispanic adults. Surprisingly, there is a lack of statistics that reveal COVID-19’s impact on the mental health of non-cisgender individuals, especailly given that non-cisgender individuals are four times more likely to report a mental health issue than cisgender individuals. Further, 33% of low-income families are experiencing higher levels of distress compared to just 29% of upper-income ones.
Social distancing measures, which experts have noted are vital to reducing the spread of the virus, contribute to this damage since prolonged periods of isolation can lead to increased feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. Moreover, experts have noted that higher stress levels can increase episodes of domestic violence, worsening mental and physical health of many individuals stuck at home with their abuser.
Additionally, a significant contributor to this problem is the drastic increase of unemployment due to the economic effects of the pandemic. As of this past week, six million people have filed for unemployment and an additional 10 million were laid off in March, leaving many families struggling to pay for rent and groceries. Such a challenge was certainly detrimental to mental health for some. Dr. Alexander Sanchez, a psychiatrist in New York City, expects symptoms of depression and anxiety to increase as more social distancing measures become enforced.This problem has been recognized by both the state government and health organizations.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo installed a 24-hour hotline targeting anyone suffering with anxiety induced from COVID-19. The National Alliance on Mental Illness created a guide with suggestions and additional resources that aim to handle these issues, which range from guide lists of online support groups for individuals who lost a loved one due to COVID-19 to providing hospitals and organizations that accommodate individuals that do not have health insurance.
The efforts of both Cuomo and the NAMI are important steps to dealing with the growing mental health problem that has escalated with the pandemic. Congress needs to increase funding to Medicaid so lower income individuals can have a fair opportunity to get treatment during this pandemic. For many, this might be a question of surviving the crisis altogether.
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Email Gabby Lozano at [email protected]