EASTON — The mental health and overdose crisis stemming from the social isolations, job losses and financial strains from the coronavirus pandemic is being magnified during the Christmas holiday season.
That is according behavioral and mental health professionals on the frontlines of the issue.
“It’s just been an extremely difficult time,” said Katie Dilley, executive director of Mid Shore Behavioral Health Inc. The Easton-based group provides mental and behavioral health services across the Mid-Shore.
Dilley said the ongoing social isolations, along with job losses and financial strains, from the coronavirus pandemic are combined with the stresses of the holidays.
“I think we’ve only seen increases,” Dilley said of calls for assistance and caseloads. Some mental and behavioral providers on the Shore have waiting lists for appointments, she said. But key resources are still available.
She said those in need of help or looking for mental and behavioral health can call the Eastern Shore Crisis Hotline at 888-407-8018. The hotline is open 24/7 every day of the year.
Shorter days during the winter can also spark seasonal depression and other challenges as communities continue to navigate stresses related to health, jobs and finances.
Dilley said she is concerned about the mental health needs of older residents as well as those on the frontlines of the pandemic such as health care workers and first responders.
She said seniors in particular are having to deal with social isolations, and they might not be as in tune with accessing telemedicine options made available during the pandemic.
“They are very vulnerable and a lot of them don’t have access to platforms where they [can] receive virtual help or know how to do it that way,” Dilley said.
Still, she said the pandemic has quickened the virtual options for those seeking or needing mental health assistance. There are also incoming federal and state investments in helping bolster broadband internet connections in rural communities, such as the Eastern Shore, as well as programs to help lower-income families offer internet service.
While telemedicine options are offered more, some patients — including on the behavioral health fronts — need to visit centers and providers in person, especially in cases where they might require certain medications or shots.
Social isolations, job losses and other strains from COVID-19 are also resulting in more drug overdoses, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the state of Maryland.
The CDC reports there were more than 81,000 fatal drug overdoses in the U.S. for the 12 months ending in May. That is the most recent data available and most overdose deaths ever reported by the CDC.
Dilley said Maryland is also seeing increasing numbers of drug overdoses — including ones related to the very dangerous drug fentanyl.
She worries some of the progress that has been made in battling opioid addiction and overdoses is being challenged by all the strains of the pandemic.
“The opioid crisis hasn’t gone away, and now we are back up to where we were a couple of years ago,” she said.
The U.S. health agency said the numbers show a marked acceleration of overdose deaths during the coronavirus pandemic, which started in March.
“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield in a statement. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”
The CDC said synthetic opioids, namely fentanyl, is the primary driver of the jump in overdose deaths. Deadly fentanyl overdoses were up 38.4% from June 2019 to May 2020, according to the CDC.
Fentanyl and opioids have been major public health concerns on the Eastern Shore.
Fatal cocaine overdoses were up 26.5%, and deadly overdoses involving crystal meth and other psycho-stimulants were up 34.8%, according to the CDC.