How COVID-19 Has Affected Mental Health and Addiction in Minnesota

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The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on the mental health of people of all ages. In fact, many people who had never experienced mental health challenges have found themselves struggling for the first time.

Never has it been more important to take care of ourselves, seek help when needed, and support our friends and families. The Behavioral Health Division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services offers an array of resources in multiple languages on its Coping With COVID-19 webpage.

If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, call **CRISIS (274747) from a cell phone; text “MN” to 741741, or call your county crisis line:
Adult crisis response phone numbers
Children’s crisis response phone numbers

May is Mental Health Month. It is time to remember that continued stigma around acknowledging behavioral health problems that has kept people from seeking help. This is especially true in Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities because of their experiences with systemic racism and the trauma of events in Minnesota over the past year. During Mental Health Month, it is time to do all we can to remove the stigma.

A national Harris poll survey conducted in late February 2021 found that one in five adults reported that their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic. Parents of young children, essential workers, young people, low-income populations, and people of color have been especially hard hit.

In a survey just five months earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that:

  • 41% of respondents had at least one behavioral health condition.
  • 31% had experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • 26% had experienced trauma or stress-related symptoms.
  • 13% said they had started or increased substance use.
  • 11% said they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days.

Real people are feeling real emotional pain. We are facing a national behavioral health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.

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Alongside the more than 550,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States, there is a growing epidemic of “deaths of despair” due to the pandemic. As many as 75,000 more people will die from drug or alcohol misuse and suicide, according to the Well Being Trust, a national foundation dedicated to advancing a vision of a nation where everyone is well in mental, social and spiritual health, and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care.

In Minnesota, drug overdose deaths increased sharply in the first half of 2020, going up 30% compared with the same period last yearRight here in Minnesota, drug overdose deaths increased sharply in the first half of 2020, going up 30% compared with the same period last year.

Unfortunately, many of the resources we have relied on for coping during times of distress have been forcibly removed from our toolbox of skills by the pandemic.

While we have immense challenges ahead, they are not insurmountable. Tackling these issues is at the heart of BHD programs and services. We are pleased to share the following tips from Mental Health America, a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to promoting mental health and preventing mental illness through advocacy, education, research, and services:

  • Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, and mental illnesses are common and treatable.
  • While 1 in 5 people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health.
  • It’s important to accept the situations in life that we cannot change, actively work to process the mental struggles associated with big changes, manage anger and frustration, recognize when trauma may be affecting your mental health, challenge negative thinking patterns, and make time to take care of yourself.
  • Knowing when to turn to friends, family, and co-workers when you are struggling with life’s challenges can help improve your mental health.
  • One way to check in with yourself is to take a mental health screen at MHA.org. It’s a quick, free, and private way to assess your mental health and recognize signs of mental health problems.
  • Living a healthy lifestyle and incorporating mental health tools to thrive may not be easy but can be achieved by gradually making small changes and building on those successes.
  • Seeking professional help when self-help efforts to improve your mental health aren’t working is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • The tools that work best for one person may not work for another. Recovery is a unique and personal journey that requires trial and error to determine what works best for each individual.
  • It’s important to remember that working on your mental health and finding tools that help you thrive takes time. Change won’t happen overnight. Instead, by focusing on small changes, you can move through the stressors of the past year and develop long-term strategies to support yourself on an ongoing basis.
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Please remember that mental illnesses are real, and recovery is possible. It is possible to find balance between life’s ups and downs and continue to cope with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, current events and myriad other stressors.


Paul Fleissner is director of the Behavioral Health Division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Neerja Singh is clinical director of DHS’s Community Supports Administration.

Last Updated on May 13, 2021

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