As tensions continue to mount across the nation, one doctor is calling for a not-so-radical solution to staving off a mental health crisis in America: ending the coronavirus lockdowns.
“Fighting to protect the health of the economy and the health of the people are not mutually exclusive endeavors,” says John F. Dombrowski, M.D. FASA in an op-ed for LifeSiteNews. “In fact, they are strongly related. While COVID-19 does present a significant threat to the physical health of at-risk individuals, the shutdown poses a more significant threat to the mental health of all individuals.”
As a physician anesthesiologist practicing pain medicine and addiction medicine for nearly 30 years, Dr. Dombrowski says he has seen “an alarming decrease in the mental health of my patients since stay-at-home orders have been in place.”
“In my pain practice, there has been an increase of over 30 percent of patients requiring medical attention with respect to anxiety as relates to their pain,” he tells the pro-life news outlet. “And in my addiction practice, I’ve seen at least a 50 percent increase in overdose and unfortunately a 30 percent increase of death related to substance use disorders.”
“With unemployment at unprecedented levels, there is much discussion about failing businesses, lost income, and people’s inability to support their families,” Dombrowski says, adding that it’s only “a skin-deep outlook that only sees a financial crisis, not the deeper mental health crisis.”
“Both unemployment and isolation are well-known to follow a path straight to depression,” Dombrowski says. “Combine the two and a person is now on the expressway to poor mental health. It’s a road that often ends in the very thing we are fighting against with the coronavirus: death.”
“COVID-19 directly and indirectly affects the mental health of the population,” the Washington, DC-based anesthesiologist explains. “Simply the fear of the unknown, the threat of harm to one’s family, the invisible danger, and more causes stress, anxiety, and even paranoia. Then add the more tangible stressors of lost loved ones, unemployment, isolation, and domestic violence, and there is no arguing that mental health is greatly affected during this global pandemic.”
Dombrowski points to a recent study by The Kaiser Family Foundation which found that 47 percent of adults sheltering in place reported negative mental health effects due to worry or stress related to the coronavirus. Only 37 percent of those not sheltering in place, however, reported such mental health effects.
“This study was conducted March 25-30, and it is reasonable to assume these figures have only increased since then,” Dombrowski theorizes. “However, the relation to the coronavirus has likely shifted from the direct fear of the virus to the indirect stressors of unemployment and isolation.”
Although lockdown orders are intended to keep individuals and communities safe, Dombrowski notes that “unfortunately, many people are not safe at home, either from themselves or a member of their household.”
“Substance abuse, domestic abuse, and suicide are sharply on the rise,” he added. “Local and state-run hotlines have reported sizable increases in call volume, as highlighted by The Health 202 article in The Washington Post.”
“The increase in contacts to distress hotlines is a clear indication of the worsening mental health crisis,” Dombrowski says. “Most of these figures were reported in April, and the weight of the global pandemic has only gotten heavier as time in isolation continues. The threat of harm due to substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicide must be considered as much as the viral threat of COVID-19.”
Thankfully, Dombrowski explains, we are not trapped in this situation. There is a way out—or at least a better way forward.
For those hesitant to embrace reopening, Dombrowski breaks down the risk, explaining that senior citizens are more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 complications but less vulnerable to adverse mental health effects stemming from unemployment.
“COVID-19 imposes the greatest threat in nursing homes,” he continues. “In fact, the latest study shows that 42 percent of COVID-19 deaths are in nursing homes. However, only 1.8 percent of the U.S. population are in nursing homes. Therefore, widespread stay-at-home orders are unnecessary to protect the vast majority of the at-risk population.”
For the working population, Dombrowski goes on, the virus poses significantly less of a threat. With a median age of about 42 years old and an average retirement age of 62, Dombrowski finds the American workforce in a fairly safe spot according to the latest COVID-19 statistics.
“People up to 44 years old are at less than 1 percent risk of death due to the virus,” he explains. “The next age bracket, between 35 and 64 years old, only account for 3.7 percent of all COVID-19 deaths. The vast majority of people below age 65 succumbed to the virus due to underlying conditions. So the risk to the employed population without underlying conditions is negligible.”
The risks carried by prolonged unemployment and isolation, however, can no longer be ignored.
“The loss of employment and loss of income, plus all of the stressors related to unemployment, quickly add up to a serious mental health issue,” Dombrowski declares.
“Now that we have measures in place to support our healthcare institutions during this pandemic, we must shift our focus to safely opening up America,” he goes on. “Opening up America is not just about the economy, it is about preserving and supporting the mental health of our nation. We must take this mental health crisis as serious as the viral threat, or we will see a casualty toll that could have been prevented.”
Dombrowski concludes, calling on his fellow healthcare professionals to share their data on the pandemic’s effect on their patients.
“Mental health issues due to COVID-19 are being endured in the shadows,” he declares. “We need to shine a light on the pandemic’s ever-increasing threat against the mental health of the people. People have a right to speak up for their mental health as much as physical health, and we must listen with equal attention. We should not sacrifice one to spare the other.”
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