Sadly, we are all too aware that COVID has caused a national health crisis, but it has also contributed to urgent societal problems, including a rapid rise in mental health issues. Uncertainty, fear, isolation, job loss, financial issues, family stress and the loss of loved ones to COVID are just some of the factors that lead many people to experience mental health problems which require treatment.
Treatment may necessitate inpatient psychiatric hospitalization if the individual is experiencing a mental health emergency. As a social work student, I was very concerned to learn that there is a severe shortage of inpatient psychiatric beds which can often lead to long waiting periods within emergency rooms. This is called boarding. The lack of psychiatric beds has been a serious problem for years, but now it has been magnified by issues related to the pandemic. Patients can wait for several hours, days or even weeks in an emergency room for a bed to open up.
Boarding can be very difficult for the patient who is experiencing severe psychological distress. This situation is made much worse during COVID due to social distancing restrictions which can lead to isolation. Furthermore, boarding puts even more stress on hospital emergency rooms as they struggle to treat patients with COVID.
This pandemic has highlighted the serious systemic problems within our mental health system. There needs to be more psychiatric beds for both adults and children in order to provide much-needed inpatient care for individuals experiencing mental health crises.
It is crucial that we contact our state legislators to increase funding and support policy change that will promote our mental health services. The pandemic has led to an opportunity for us to fix our broken mental health system. These improvements can help those in need now and well into the future. Unfortunately, even when the coronavirus has subsided, the psychological impact of this pandemic will linger for years to come.