Health professionals concerned about mental toll of COVID-19 pandemic in SC

The pandemic has changed lives in more ways than one.
Updated: Aug. 14, 2020 at 7:49 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Thousands in South Carolina have lost loved ones or friends due to COVID-19 complications this year.

There is no question the physical toll of the pandemic has been devastating.

The pandemic has changed lives in more ways than one. Doctors say they're now starting to see the mental toll it's taking on South Carolinians.

Thursday afternoon, Bobby Brazell had to give his friend four doses of an opioid overdose reversal drug commonly known as Narcan.

“The problem hasn’t gone away -- it’s been amplified,” Brazell said.

He’s the Executive Director for Midlands Recovery Center in Lexington. Brazell is also in long-term recovery.

Brazell was with a friend who is working towards recovery when that friend overdosed in his bathroom. When Brazell realized his friend was in the bathroom for too long, he sprung into action.

He kicked the bathroom door open and found his friend on the floor.

Brazell’s friend had overdosed. Brazell administered the Narcan and was able to wake his friend up and save his life. EMS transported the man to the hospital. He was released a few hours later.

Brazell said the pandemic has made fighting the opioid epidemic even more difficult in South Carolina. "We're having to think outside the box in the recovery community. We're trying to figure out the best way to reach these people who need our help."

Suspected opioid overdoses are up in the state, according to officials.

They also said EMS crews in the state were responding to 30 suspected overdose calls per day in the month of May. That is a 63% increased to earlier in the year, officials said.

Dr. Gerald Harmon is the President-Elect for the American Medical Association. He also works at Tidelands Health.

Harmon and others spoke during a teleconference hosted by the South Carolina AARP and South Carolina Behavioral Health Coalition on Friday.

They said a combination of stressors, accompanied with the removal of support systems, like seeing friends and family regularly, has created conditions ripe for emotional and behavioral health crises to occur.

“Not having access to care makes things difficult,” Harmon said. “There’s still stigma. There was a stigma before COVID-19.”

He added: “Unfortunately, some people believe if you don’t have COVID-19, you don’t have a reason to be depressed right now.”

Harmon said talking about your mental state during the pandemic and seeking help if you need it is the best way to navigate all of this.

Brazell said you cannot fight substance use disorder alone, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

”Recovery is all about personal connection,” he explained.

He said they are in the process of applying for more grants to try to do more in-person interaction safely in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to officials, SC-HOPES, a mental health support line launched by the Department of Mental Health and others, has had nearly 300 calls since the beginning of June.

The support line, which can be reached 24/7, statewide, toll-free, at 1-(844) SC-HOPES (724-6737), will connect callers to trained clinicians who can address their specific needs.

If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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