116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It’s year two of the novel coronavirus, which sent this country spiraling into a pandemic. And in recent news, Gov. Kim Reynolds has declared COVID is no longer a public health emergency.
Instead, she announced COVID is something that has become a part of the state’s normal daily business and should be treated similarly to the flu and other infectious diseases, starting Feb. 15. And in some respects, she’s right. COVID has become a part of people’s daily lives and it will for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, COVID infection rates are still rising and straining emergency departments. What’s more, the impact the pandemic has had on people’s mental health has been staggering.
In Iowa, over 8,600 people have died from COVID since the pandemic started.
During the pandemic, emergency department visits relating to mental health emergencies have risen 24 percent for children between the age of 5 and 11; 31 percent for children between the age of 12 and 17, according to the American Psychological Association. Right now, children’s mental health is on the decline and burnout is a significant trend we’ve seen emerge for adults in the past two years.
While there has been a slight decrease in suicide since 2019, the rate has increased for young men and boys, according to Bloomberg. And aside from the slight decrease, the suicide rate in this country is still historically high and definitely something the state and its lawmakers should be addressing with arduous vigor. These trends are projected to grow unless our leaders handle the pandemic and other pressing issues associated with it adequately.
The need for mental health services and equal access to these services is urgent. We are in the era of mental health awareness and the rise of psychologists. More people are willing to get help, but not everyone has the same access or opportunities, especially when it comes to financial status. Research findings from Jama Network, Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest a need to expand service accessibility and/or acceptability, as well as public and population-wide prevention efforts. As such, psychological health care benefits should be something employers consider when they offer employees their benefits packages.
The novel coronavirus is still a public health emergency in the fact that this virus is killing and hospitalizing people at a higher rate than other infectious diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Up to 650,000 people die of flu-related causes every year worldwide. COVID-19 has killed more than 5.7 million in two years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Global COVID-19 Tracker. The continuing rise in cases and plateau of people getting vaccinated in the state of Iowa is bound to increase burnout and lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair when COVID seems like a neverending health crisis.
In Iowa, over 8,600 people have died from COVID since the pandemic started, according to state data. But only six flu deaths were reported for the 2020-2021 season, likely because of pandemic precautions. This data, combined with the increasing level of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, job and financial stress, are all factors contributing to a feeling of hopelessness and despair that Iowans are experiencing. And that’s a significant feeling — one this state’s leaders and lawmakers should be paying attention to, as well as employers, because suicide most often occurs when these stressors are present, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Perhaps the way forward is offering Iowans a more holistic approach to their wellbeing and health. In Illinois, it’s become state law to provide students up to five mental health days without a doctor’s note, should they need them. That could be a model educational institutions in Iowa follow — and workplaces, too. When people stop caring about other people, that sense of community and camaraderie known in Iowa falls to the wayside. The facade of Iowa nice fades and what’s left is a broken state that doesn’t know how to serve its people, leaving them to fend for themselves as COVID continues to ravage through counties, the risk of homelessness looms and more.
It’s no wonder young people are fleeing the state and the population continues to age. How good can a state’s leaders really be if they’re not working to protect their citizens, both with innovative new ideas and methods we’ve seen work before in other states?
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org