NC sees disturbing trend in mental health issues, drug use during COVID-19 pandemic, state officials say

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Friday, July 31, 2020
NC sees disturbing trend in mental health issues during pandemic
State health officials warned of a disturbing increase in both mental health issues and substance abuse amid the COVID-19 pandemic during a Thursday afternoon conference.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- North Carolina health officials are warning of a disturbing trend in mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a Thursday news conference, Victor Armstrong, the director of the Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, Substance Abuse Services said there has been a 15 percent increase in the number of people going to the emergency room due to opioid overdoses and binge drinking. Also citing the rate of anxiety and depression tripling within the state.

"You're balancing kind of the pandemic and what that means for the community and the health care system," said Chris Budnick, executive director at Healing Transitions, an addiction recovery center in Raleigh people struggling with addiction can visit.

RELATED: Wake County detox center remains open as addictions increase due to COVID-19 stress

Since March, they had to stop taking people in because of COVID-19 but continued offering outreach including detox at remote locations. They still have 100 people living at the facility at Dorothea Dix Park as of now.

"If you're out there and you're feeling very isolated and alone, know that there are people out there that care and understand you," Budnick said.

Dr. Eric Elbogen, professor of psychiatry at Duke University's School of Medicine, said it's understandable and deeply saddening to see the trends within the state.

"There is this uncertainty which you would have had confidence in things that you can't anymore," he said. "There's a lot of people that would use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate health problems for stress. Financial strain can increase mental health problems, suicide risk and you have a sense of potential hopelessness about what the future is going to entail.

Dr. Elbogen said there are some studies from the Great Depression and Great Recession that showed higher rates of suicide and that a lot of people during those periods did use drugs and alcohol to cope.

WATCH: DHHS Director of Mental Health Services on stress management and mental health resources

Victor Armstrong, ‪Director of the NC Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, Substance Abuse Services, talks about the need to focus on mental health at this stage of the pandemic.

But he said there is little precedent to what's happening now. The state says to use the S.C.O.O.P. Method to manage stress.

  • S -- Stay connected to family and friends
  • C -- Compassion for self and others
  • O -- Observe use of substances
  • O -- It's OK to ask for help
  • P -- Physical activity to improve mood

In addition to Alliance Health and Healing Transitions, WakeMed has a network for Advancing Behavioral Health.

There's also the North Carolina Help Line for Mental Health which can be called at any time: 1 (855) 587-3463.