Disasters such as a pandemic worsen mental health and increase substance abuse in affected communities. Research has shown that traumatic events exacerbate mental health problems like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse disorders. Dr. Benjamin Springgate, Chief of the Section of Community and Population Medicine in the Department of Medicine, and Director of the Center for Healthcare Value and Equity at LSU Health Sciences Center, believes that the coronavirus pandemic represents not only a public health crisis but is giving rise to a mental health crisis, and that evidence-based solutions need to be targeted to both. Furthermore, just as important as treatment for the individual in need is bolstering resilience of individuals and communities to ensure that people have the ability to adapt, bounce back, and be stronger when they face future stressors or disasters.
Dr. Springgate and his team research ways to enhance resilience and to minimize the adverse effects of disasters for at-risk populations. Dr. Springgate and his team also founded the Integrated Health Clinic at University Medical Center, where they provide effective, life-saving care for patients with substance use, mental health, and other problems. He believes that during this time of recurrent disasters and pandemics, communities and patients need access to evidence-based solutions based on real-world research to navigate their complex health needs.
Dr. Springgate also suggests that as a community we consider the utilization of appropriate resources relative to needs. “There are only a handful of psychiatrists in any given community,” says Dr. Springgate. “But there is substantial research showing that primary care physicians, social workers, therapists, community health workers, and nurses can work as part of a collaborative mental health team to provide high-quality, effective care for problems like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and substance abuse.”
Lastly, Dr. Springgate stresses that it is essential to ensure equitable access to mental health care. Treatment should be accessible and high-quality regardless of social or financial situations. We must ask ourselves, “What are we doing to support the resilience of at-risk populations to be better prepared to face challenges like hurricanes or pandemics, and to live a healthy life?”