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COVID-19

Essential workers pressured by mental health issues

Meghan McCarty Carino Aug 14, 2020
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A pharmacist working in protective gear. A CDC report shows that mental health issues are plaguing many essential workers. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
COVID-19

Essential workers pressured by mental health issues

Meghan McCarty Carino Aug 14, 2020
Heard on:
A pharmacist working in protective gear. A CDC report shows that mental health issues are plaguing many essential workers. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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The pandemic is a crisis in this country on so many fronts: unprecedented health risks, economic collapse and — now it’s clear — mental health challenges. A new report from the CDC shows Americans are increasingly suffering symptoms of anxiety and depression, turning to substance use and even contemplating suicide at higher rates.

One group that has been particularly hard hit is essential workers.

Ashli Hinds works not one, but two essential jobs in Fort Worth, Texas. She’s a package handler for a shipping company and does on-site tech support for an aerospace firm. But last Monday, she just needed a break.

“It was just one of those days,” she said. “I was able to tell my boss, you know, ‘Hey, I want to take a mental health day.’ “

She worries about her own health — as a Black woman with diabetes, she’s particularly at risk. And because she works outside the home, she doesn’t want to endanger her friends or family, so she’s usually alone.

“It is depression. It’s like a monkey on my back,” Hinds said. “Like I have nowhere to go, nobody to go see — and that’s the hard part.”

According to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of essential workers have experienced mental health issues in recent months. That’s 25% more than the general population. More than a fifth have contemplated suicide.

Many low-wage service jobs have become less secure. Kiara Iverson has seen her hours cut at a big-box store outside Milwaukee.

“It is a bit scary because, you know, my relatives are older. We don’t have enough money in our pockets to deal with all of that,” she said.  

Jobs in health care, while always stressful, have become even more traumatic during the pandemic, according to Dr. James Rachal, a psychiatrist with Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Especially early on in the disease process, there was very little we could do. So it was very disempowering for a lot of health care workers that typically have some solution or some cure at their fingertips,” he said. “Sometimes it was colleagues they were seeing that were getting sick.”

Ironically, Rachal said getting help for mental health issues often hasn’t been accepted or prioritized in the field.

Many essential service workers have limited resources for help. Sarah Norton heads a Twin Cities nonprofit that offers counseling services to restaurant workers.

“I mean, the industry itself was lacking a safety net prior to this,” she said.

Norton said she’s seen a 75% increase in calls to their crisis hotline since the pandemic began.

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, anxiety or depression, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Here’s how to find help outside the U.S.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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