OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma nonpartisan group of mental health experts said COVID-19 will continue to kill with lingering effects months after the virus finishes running its course in the state.
According to a Healthy Minds Policy Initiative report released Wednesday, an estimated 18,400 Oklahomans might attempt suicide in the next year. More than 13,000 also could develop substance use disorders. In addition, the organization estimated 30% of children in quarantine might experience post-traumatic stress disorders.
The report’s conclusions were based on an analysis of the aftermath of previous natural disasters and documented mental health effects of economic downturns.
“These estimates shed light on the massive scope of mental health challenges our state will face over the next year and beyond as a result of the virus,” said Zack Stoycoff, senior director of policy and planning for the initiative, in a statement.
Much like major natural disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting mental health implications, Stoycoff said.
“In addition to the immediate health needs of people infected with COVID-19, the pandemic is likely to cause levels of unemployment, which will increase the frequency of suicide and overdose deaths,” said Tim Dittmer, an economist with Healthy Minds and lead author of the study.
In a statement, Dittmer said officials can mitigate the indirect consequences by expanding behavioral treatment programs and planning for those expansions now.
Social distancing, quarantine and isolation policies, in particular, may contribute to mental health issues, the report found. While important in reducing the spread of infections, the practice also has negative mental health effects.
Social interaction and play are particularly important to children’s cognitive, linguistic and social-emotional development, the report said.
Joe Dorman, CEO of Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, said he wouldn’t be shocked if more than 30% of Oklahoma children suffer from PTSD after the pandemic subsides.
“This is a critical age during youth to develop social skills, and for them to be cut off from friends and (with) so much negative press … it’s certainly going to generate more nightmares and problems long term,” he said.
Dorman, who had not yet seen the study, said this pandemic likely will be an adverse childhood experience for many children.
He said parents and families need to be aware of how social isolation is impacting youth and find ways to keep kids in communication with friends either through FaceTime or phone calls.
It’s critical that children know their friends still are OK, Dorman said.
Adults separated from friends, meanwhile, often feel sad or lonely, the study found.
One in four quarantined or socially isolated parents may experience enough stress that they also could be diagnosed with PTSD, the report found.