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Living in the Post-COVID-19 Era: Inside Charleston’s Race to Lead Mental Health Reform



There are three fundamental consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: physical, mental, and economic.

  1. Physical

The physical impact is relatively easy to gauge as institutions like John Hopkins University track total figures per country and globally. To date, there are over 33.15 million infections, with just under 1 million deaths. The USA is leading the world in the highest number of infections at 7.11 million infections and the highest death rate at 204 778 deaths. India is catching up with the overall infection rate (6.07 million infections) but has far fewer deaths than the USA at 95 542 deaths.

Note: These numbers change every 24 hours as this virus is extremely contagious.

  1. Economic 

The economic impact has been devastating, driving the world into the most profound economic recession since The Great Depression in the 1930s. The World Bank’s “baseline forecast envisions a 5.2 percent contraction in global GDP in 2020.”

The long-term outlook is not great. Again, the World Bank notes that the “deep recessions triggered by the pandemic are expected to leave lasting scars through lower investment, an erosion of human capital through lost work and schooling, and fragmentation of global trade and supply linkages.”

The website estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic could cost the global economy up to $21 trillion (USD). Other experts have quoted much lower numbers of up to $8.8 trillion (USD). The difference in these two numbers is in the anticipated time that the global population will have to live with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

  1. Mental

The global and US mental health statistics have skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic. It is slightly more challenging to quantify these numbers. And research studies are ongoing to determine COVID-19’s impact on the world’s population’s mental health and well-being.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the World Health Organization states that the main psychological impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is an increase in the rates of stress and anxiety. They also noted that as measures were implemented to control the outbreak such as quarantine and social distancing, they expected an increase in the “levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behavior.”

Now that we are over the worst of the pandemic, there seems to be an increase in the number of people displaying symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The published an article titled “Chartered: The coronavirus’s staggering toll on America’s mental health,” stating that “the United States’ coronavirus epidemic has taken a significant toll on Americans’ mental health—but some groups have been hit far harder than others.”

In summary, researchers have found that anxiety, depression, and suicide ideation numbers are significantly higher than in earlier years.

Additional factors that cause mental illness

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the only reason for the development of mental illnesses in Charleston residents. Let’s look at the two most important contributors outside the coronavirus pandemic:

  1. Socio-economic challenges

In 2010, the World Health Organization published a health discussion paper titled, “A conceptual framework for action on social determinants of health,” discussing how societal structures are affecting population health and what national governments can do to improve the barriers that prevent specific sectors of the population from accessing adequate health care.

This report demonstrated that aspects such as income, education, occupation, gender, race/ethnicity, and other factors play a fundamental role in the social hierarchy or social position.

In summary, social position plays a fundamental role in the mechanisms of health inequalities (Diderichsen’s model). The lower the individual on the socio-economic scale, the greater the difficulties in accessing quality health care. This is a challenge facing large tranches of the global population.

Finally, the worse an individual’s physical health, the greater the risk of developing mental health challenges due to poor economic circumstances driven by the inability to generate an income due to poor physical health. When mental illness is added into the mix, the individual’s ability to work becomes more of a challenge, resulting in a vicious cycle of poor health, poverty, and so on.

2.Natural disasters and pandemics 

The global COVID-19 pandemic has been discussed in detail, so there is no need to reiterate what has been highlighted above.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only factor here. Charleston forms part of the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, rendering the county vulnerable to severe weather events such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and earthquakes.

The devastation, loss, and upheaval caused by these severe weather events are known to have a negative impact on human mental health. When one of these events is added to the global pandemic with residents trying to social distance while evacuating their home, possibly losing everything, it is no wonder that there is a reasonable risk of developing debilitating mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

Charleston, South Carolina: Leading the way in mental healthcare

The good news is that there some districts in the USA like Charleston, South Carolina that are trying to lead by example and are working at improving mental health treatment options in the county to mitigate the negative impact on residents’ mental health and well-being.

Statistics quoted in the 2019 Tri-County Community Health Needs Assessment demonstrate that most Charleston residents believe that mental health is treatable with a combination of medication, therapy, and support groups.

It is worth noting at this juncture that county officials are encouraging residents to look at low-cost therapy such as the affordable therapists in Charleston.

Deborah Blalock, executive director for the Charleston Dorchester mental health center, noted at its Tri-County Crisis Stabilization Center’s reopening in 2017 that mental illness is no different from any other disease like cancer or hypertension. It only gets worse if left untreated.

This center aims to provide a care facility that “keeps non-violent, mentally ill patients out of jails and from unnecessary hospital commitments.” The center was initially established to treat people experiencing “psychiatric distress” but don’t need to be admitted to a psychiatric ward or hospital. It offers treatment for non-violent people with suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, psychosis, or manic behavior.

Finally, the center offers individual and group sessions with a psychiatrist and a nurse, learning the necessary life skills to cope with the illness outside of a mental hospital.

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