A young East Bay man, struggling with schizophrenia and addiction, breaks his sobriety and fatally overdoses on drugs after COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders cut him off from in-person meetings with his therapist.
Teens suffer breakdowns over their loss of contact with school and friends. Black residents, including the mother of a police shooting victim, find themselves emotionally devastated all over again by images of George Floyd being killed by Minneapolis officers.
These are among the stories that have begun to emerge as Bay Area residents endure the growing psychological toll of an unprecedented and prolonged global pandemic, civil unrest and uncertainty about the country’s future.
Bay Area mental health specialists and crisis line managers say they have seen an increasing number of calls or texts from distraught people seeking help. They worry the situation will grow worse with surges in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
This uptick in calls for help comes at a time when up to a third of American adults say they have experienced symptoms of clinical depression and anxiety during the pandemic, according to a weekly survey of U.S. households carried out by the Census Bureau.
“People are one-by-one hitting their limits at different times. They have different capacities for dealing with the unknown,” said Narges Dillon, executive director for Crisis Support Services of Alameda County, which has seen a 15 percent increase in calls to its crisis line. “As this crisis is prolonged, people who were fine in March or April are starting to feel the stress add up.”
Karina Chapa, the volunteer coordinator for Star-Vista, the nonprofit agency that runs San Mateo County’s crisis line, added that people have lost access to the things that normally keep them well: working out, A.A. meetings, school counselors, in-home family support. “People may resort to less healthy coping mechanisms to survive,” she says.
More than half a million Bay Area residents have lost jobs, young people have been cut off from vital social connections, and women have felt the 24/7 loneliness and pressure of working remotely while trying to homeschool young children. Officials are especially concerned about layoffs hitting middle-aged men — a high-risk population for suicide — and low-income people unsure of how to pay rent or buy food.
Black Americans already were experiencing disproportionate rates of serious illness and death from COVID-19. But police killings and resulting protests have triggered new emotional trauma over long-standing concerns about racism and police violence.
“So many of us were trying to stay mentally well in terms of COVID-19, and we were looking forward to the country reopening,” said Gigi Crowder, the executive director of the Contra Costa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, during a remote town hall meeting hosted by the Oscar Grant Foundation. “Then came these additional wounds, heartfelt wounds to our spirit.”
In the Census Bureau survey for June 11-16, 36 percent of respondents said they experienced symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, meaning they had felt “down, depressed or hopeless” or “nervous, anxious or on edge.” That’s more than double the number of adults who reported such symptoms in the spring of 2019, according to another national survey.
On March 13, the Friday before shelter-in-place went into effect, Santa Clara County saw a sudden spike in messages to its crisis text line. Since then, the county’s mobile crisis team has responded to a growing number of people in distress each month, from 157 in February to 215 in May, said Sherri Terao, director of Behavioral https://bt-hypnotise.com/ Services.
Tom Tamura, executive director of Contra Costa Crisis Services, said his agency is handling an estimated 1,000 additional calls per month compared with the same period in 2019.
Up to 25 percent of calls to StarVista’s crisis line were related to COVID-19’s impact on people’s jobs, daily routines and mental health, said Zena Andreani, the program manager for StarVista’s Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center. She said these calls “may be the tip of the iceberg in understanding the long-term mental health effects of COVID-19.”
So far, it’s too soon to say whether the pandemic has caused more suicides, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The John Muir Behavioral https://bt-hypnotise.com/ Center in Concord has seen a steady increase in patients during the pandemic, says Sandy Young, who manages admissions at the facility. She’s been struck by one group of patients: Teenagers whose despair has been compounded by their “grief” over not being able to celebrate accomplishments and milestones, such as prom and graduation.
If there is any good news amid the anguish, it is that people are staying in contact with friends and family and opening up about their stress and anxiety, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported. Zoom therapy appointments and support groups have actually made it more convenient to get help.
How to get help
- Santa Clara County suicide and crisis hotline, 1-855-278-4204; text RENEW to reach 741741.
NAMI Santa Clara: 408-453-0400, ext. 1
- Alameda County crisis line, 800-309-2131
- PEERS Mental https://bt-hypnotise.com/ and Recovery services, 510-832-7337, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Contra Costa Crisis Center suicide and crisis line, 800-833-2900, or 211; text line, HOPE to 20121 reach
- NAMI Contra Costa: 925-465-3864
- San Mateo County crisis line: 650-579-0350; text line, BAY to 741741
- NAMI San Mateo: 650-638-0800