In already busy Genesis Medical Center emergency departments, staff are beginning to notice an increase in one group of patients who do not have COVID-19 symptoms.

Genesis emergency department staff have observed higher numbers of patients who have behavioral health issues or have overdosed on, or are impaired by, drugs or alcohol. Treating the patients takes staff attention and resources at the same time the staff are treating large numbers of patients with COVID-19 or other conditions or injuries.

“If someone had mental health or addiction issues before the outbreak of the coronavirus, it isn’t surprising that those conditions have become worse during the pandemic,’’ said Martin Carpenter, M.D., medical director of Genesis Behavioral Health. “That is more based on observation than science at this point but there will be scientific studies done after this is over.

“When you consider how the pandemic has isolated us from our social interaction, hobbies, activities we enjoy, I think we’re going to find a lot more alcohol and substance abuse, more depression and anxiety, and more suicides and suicidal thoughts.”

Early data for 2020 indicates the year could be more deadly than 2019 when a record 71,000 Americans died of overdoses.

Dr. Carpenter said many people also have lost jobs, are facing financial insecurity and have lost their previously available networks of support.

“Poor people with chronic mental health issues are often already on the fringes,’’ Dr. Carpenter said. “If you are poor, homeless and have COVID, you are really on the fringes. If you do not have access to technology and do not know how to use it, it is tough to have an online appointment with a health care provider.”

At the same time, safety nets for people with mental health issues have tightened or temporarily disappeared, Carpenter said.

“One of the issues we have run into with inpatients is getting them placed at discharge. We are jumping through more hoops because shelter facilities are full. The system is clogged. What it means is that if you are homeless now, you are really homeless. There aren’t options available.

“If you are COVID positive and have mental health issues, there is nowhere to turn. The shelters will not take COVID-positive people even if they have space.’’

Carpenter said the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in occasional surges in patient census in the Behavioral Health inpatient units at Genesis Medical Center, West Central Park, Davenport.

“Sometimes the unit is full, sometimes strikingly empty. It isn’t predictable. The adolescent unit has been busier than usual during the pandemic,’’ Dr. Carpenter said. “As we’re going through this, we have had several staff out sick with COVID and other illness. It’s a difficult time for mental health patients and for the caregivers.’’

Carpenter said the pandemic has exacerbated issues of anxiety, depression and anger children may have demonstrated before the outbreak.

“The virus is wreaking havoc on young people,’’ he said. “Families with students with mental health or physical issues rely on schools for so much … structure, socialization, nutrition and experts. If your child is one who spends every day with a trained professional at school, this is very difficult.

“Kids lose so much by not being in school. Screen time and remote learning cannot replace everything being lost. There is no upside right now for anyone who is at risk for mental health issues.’’

Mental health and addiction resources are available in the region, including Genesis Psychology Associates. For information, call (563) 355-2577.

Also available are Robert Young Mental Health at (309) 779-3000; Vera French Community Mental Health Center at (563) 383-1900; and, Center for Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS) at (563) 322-2667.

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Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.