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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

One Year Later: Looking Back At The Mental Health Effects Of COVID-19

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The coronavirus has affected people in many ways this past year and according to reports, there has been an increase of people suffering from mental health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41% of people nationwide have experienced depression and anxiety this year — compared to only 11% a year ago. We talked to a few people in Charlotte to hear how they are doing and coping.

Jamirious Mooney: My name is Jamirious Mooney. And in this pandemic I had to deal with being a college student, as well as losing a loved one in COVID, and navigating that experience. It's been a tough time processing that. Staying sane right now has been really achieved through hanging out with my bubble. Seeing my friends, getting out and about. Sitting 6 feet apart from people.

Kadean Maddix: My name is Kadean Maddix and I currently reside of the west side of Charlotte. I am doing well. This time has been a time of growth. As an educator, I've had to learn on the fly how to best educate students via the internet, and that has been challenging. Also, I got engaged in a pandemic and I guess you can call it a "COVID engagement" and that in and of itself has definitely shown me that there is hope.

Paige Kelsey: I'm Paige from Starmount Forest. On a scale of 1 to 10 this past year, I probably averaged around a six with the good days, the bad days and just the general in-between days. I kept sane by getting more in contact with family, with friends on social media, getting outside and just picking up some extra hobbies.

Alysse Pearson: My name is Alysse Pearson. Some days during the pandemic I'm doing well, but my stress levels are definitely a lot higher. And I am finding my sanity in working out and a routine. When I don't have a routine, I feel like I am insane.

Niki Mooney: My name is Niki. Most days I don't know if I'm staying sane. I'm a single mom of one son who's currently in college, and so kind of living by myself and feeling completely isolated has been very isolating. Being back in the office definitely gives me some sense of normalcy versus being at home. I felt like I was climbing the walls and losing my mind on most days.

Gwendolyn Glenn: We’re going to now talk to Dr. Alyson Kuroski-Mazzei, president of the North Carolina Psychiatric Association and CEO and chief medical officer of HopeWay in Charlotte, a behavioral and mental health facility. She says the statistics on mental health in North Carolina and Charlotte since the pandemic mirrors national statistics.

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HopeWay
Alyson Kuroski-Mazzei

Alyson Kuroski-Mazzei: The North Carolina statistics are actually increased. We're seeing 1in 3adults having symptoms of anxiety or depression, about 30 to 40%. Whereas in the same months in 2019, it was about 10%, or 1in 10 adults.

We're also seeing per the North Carolina DETECT, a statewide surveillance system, that the number of people going to the emergency room for overdose on opiates or other addictive drugs in North Carolina was up 20% compared to the same period last year. There's also data from Mecklenburg County that about 51% of individuals polled in a Mecklenburg survey were depressed.

Glenn: In terms of your organization, what kinds of issues are people coming to you with that are specifically related to COVID-19,and that's been going on this past year? Can you give me some examples?

Kuroski-Mazzei: We really are seeing an increase in specifically depression, anxiety and substance use, and that can be because they lost a job or they're struggling with managing their household. They're trying to hold a job and teach kids online or maybe they have an increase in bingeing on alcohol or prescription medications. I think a lot of it is due to the isolation and the decreased sense of community, as well as just the difficulties with loss of income and school issues and not seeing family members if they don't live close to you for several, several months.

Glenn: What are you seeing in terms of people's health? Is health suffering and things like such as sleep habits, eating habits? What's happening there?

Kuroski-Mazzei: Sleep is all over the place, especially for our children and adolescents who do not have a routine during the day and are not going to school. We are seeing people not having access to food and eating three meals a day. We are definitely seeing a decrease in cardiovascular fitness because exercise is not as prevalent as it was before. So the change in diets, the increase in stress, as well as the changes with sleep has been just a big, big change for many of us.

Glenn: What about substance abuse? Those who had a problem with alcohol or drugs, are they being able to get to their meetings? What are you seeing there?

Kuroski-Mazzei: The epidemic has definitely increased those individuals using substances, whether it's alcohol or illicit drugs — or prescription drugs, for that matter. Opiate overdoses in the U.S. were up 18% when we last looked at March and May data of 2020. It's definitely been a challenge during this past year.

Glenn: And I saw one study that showed that suicidal thoughts went from 30% prior to this year, up to 42% among essential workers.

Kuroski-Mazzei: Correct. We are seeing an increase of suicidal ideation among essential workers, among children. Mental Health America actually put out a report that shows that 51% of youth seeking help either half of the days or every day in a week period. So this is a crisis. And I think what we all need to realize is that mental health issues don't discriminate.

Glenn: But I understand there is a difference in terms of race when it comes to anxiety and depression and suicidal thoughts. You know, African Americans, Hispanics and other groups have had a problem with access to mental health and that that has increased.

Kuroski-Mazzei: Absolutely. We are seeing those communities being the hardest hit, not just with COVID, but with depression, anxiety, substance use and suicidal ideation. It is really imperative that as a community, we come together right now to figure out how we can increase access to those in underserved areas and vulnerable communities.

And I'm excited to say that HopeWay and Novant Health are working on and looking at how we can better serve folks in west Charlotte through the Michael Jordan clinics.

Glenn: Are you reaching out more through the clinic? Can you give me some specifics on how you're trying to make more resources available?

Kuroski-Mazzei: The details are still being worked out and we look to hopefully start that initiative as soon as possible.

Glenn: And what about the federal government and local governments? Are they providing more resources? I know there have been federal dollars included in some of the various packages that have come through Congress.

Kuroski-Mazzei: So we are hopefully going to be seeing some more COVID relief packages. We should hopefully be seeing some more financial support, but HopeWay has not specifically received any federal funding. But we will be looking at grants in the short and long run.

North Carolina really does have a higher prevalence of mental health issues and a lower rate of access compared to many other states. North Carolina is in the bottom quartile for states that are increasing access to care for youths. When you look at many of the counties in North Carolina, they don't even have access to a child adolescent psychiatrist. So that's a problem. It's also a challenge for our geriatric clients. There's very, very few geriatric psychiatrist in Charlotte compared to other states.

Glenn: And advice to people at this time in terms of how they can cope, trying to make it through this?

Kuroski-Mazzei: So I think the first thing is to talk about your issues and to seek help. Work on self care, whether that's 15 minutes or 30 minutes of taking a walk or going to an outdoor yoga session or doing things that are safe, but obviously getting outdoors, you know, to see the sun so that it can help, also, with your sleep habits.

And so if you can even carve out just 15 minutes a day to meditate or to go on a walk, snuggle your dog — just something that will bring you joy, I think, goes a long way. But at the end of the day, these are brain diseases and they do need to be treated by a professional.

Dr. Alyson Kuroski-Mazzei, is president of the North Carolina Psychiatric Association and CEO and chief medical officer of Hopeway in Charlotte

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