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Depression, Anxiety Increased During Pandemic, Parkland Experts Say

It came as no surprise this spring when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported worsening rates of depression and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in young adults.

The CDC study showed that all adult age groups (except those over 80 years) had significant increases in symptoms. The largest increases were among individuals aged 18 to 29 years, with nearly 3 in 5 (57%) reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression.

“The past 18 months have been emotionally challenging for everyone,” said Rebecca Corona, PhD, Lead Psychologist at Parkland Health & Hospital System. “In Parkland’s outpatient behavioral health clinics, we’re seeing patients of all ages, ethnicities and socio-economic status dealing with COVID-related stress, grief and depression.”

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time when mental health professionals strive to raise awareness of the risk of suicide, warning signs to watch for, ways to offer support and resources available for those in need of professional help.

“A silver lining of the COVID-19 health crisis is that people are recognizing the vital role of mental health in our overall wellbeing and that it’s okay to seek help,” Dr. Corona said. “Through telehealth expansion, Parkland has increased access to outpatient mental health services during the pandemic to ensure that patients receive necessary care.”

In addition, Parkland is developing integrated pediatric mental health services, expanding adult services and improving navigation of behavioral health services, responding to findings of the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) that identified unmet mental health needs in the county. Parkland’s strategy is to increase behavioral health capacity and improve coordination among behavioral health providers and community-based organizations.

In 2015, Parkland became the first health system in the nation to administer a universal suicide screening program to identify persons at risk and help save lives through early intervention. The program screens all adults and youth, ages 10 to 17, regardless of their reason for seeking care. Since initiating the program, more than 4 million suicide risk screenings have been completed with patients in Parkland’s Emergency Department, Urgent Care Department, inpatient units and Community Oriented Primary Care (COPC) health centers.

“It’s too soon to tell if actual suicide rates are changing due to the pandemic, although increasing rates of positive depression and suicide screens have been observed around the country,” said Kim Roaten, PhD, Director of Quality for Safety, Education and Implementation, Department of Psychiatry at Parkland and Professor of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It is very important that all patients, but particularly those with known risk factors and/or psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety, be monitored for worsening symptoms including suicidal ideation and self-directed violence.”

Dr. Roaten said everyone should be aware of potential suicide warning signs:

  • Feeling like a burden
  • Being isolated
  • Increased anxiety
  • Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Increased substance or alcohol use
  • Looking for a way to access lethal means such as a firearm
  • Increased anger or rage
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressing hopelessness
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Talking or posting about wanting to die
  • Making plans for suicide

“If you think someone is struggling trust your instincts,” Dr. Roaten advised. “Let them know you’re concerned and want to help. Ask direct questions about suicide and be ready to listen. Evidence shows that asking someone if they are thinking of harming themselves does not lead to increased risk of suicide. You don’t need to know all of the answers, but be prepared to help connect them to resources like a crisis hotline or textline and mental health providers at Parkland and in the community.”

Suicide crisis lines include:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline –Provides free, 24-hour assistance. 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line – Free 24/7 support – Text “HOME” to 741741
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline – Free, confidential 24/7 helpline information service for substance abuse and mental health treatment referral. 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • Suicide & Crisis Center of North Texas 24/7 crisis line. 214-828-1000
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org
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