Empower Wisconsin | May 11, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — While the Evers administration has locked down the state in its response to combating the pandemic, a mental health crisis is growing in isolation.
Nationally, calls to mental health and drug abuse helplines have risen dramatically and new polling finds that nearly half of Americans surveyed are dealing with depression, caused by fear of COVID-19 and the accompanying government stay-at-home orders.
“Three months into the coronavirus pandemic, the country is on the verge of another health crisis, with daily doses of death, isolation and fear generating widespread psychological trauma,” the Washington Post reported last week.
Meanwhile, direct help is getting harder to come by. Mental health providers in Wisconsin, like other health care facilities, are dealing with the coronavirus-centric edicts that require a shift to tele-services and designations of nonessential medical treatment.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 45 percent of adults in the United States reported their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus.
“As the pandemic wears on, it is likely the mental health burden will increase as measures taken to slow the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, business and school closures, and shelter-in-place orders, lead to greater isolation and potential financial distress,” the foundation stated in a press release.
While the necessity of the extended lockdown is being debated in living rooms and courtrooms across the country, the isolation is hitting home. As the Kaiser Family Foundation notes, “these public health measures expose many people to experiencing situations that are linked to poor mental health outcomes …”
Among them, significant job loss. More than a half-million people have filed for unemployment in Wisconsin since mid-March. That’s a record — a dubious one at that. The U.S. economy shed 20.5 million jobs in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Mental health officials in Wisconsin and elsewhere see job loss leading to a spike in intimate partner violence. The numbers were bad before. Approximately one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have experienced intimate partner violence — sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime, according to CDC. Data from U.S. crime reports suggest that about 1 in 6 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.
“There is a concern that the numbers experiencing intimate partner violence will dramatically rise in as a result of social distancing and quarantine during COVID-19,” the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently reported.
Before the pandemic, a survivor or victim could flee a violent situation or file a protective order with police.
“For many, such options aren’t easily available right now. A stay-at-home order can force victims to stay in a dangerous situation,” the report states.