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New Pierce County data shows mental-health harms of pandemic

Many people suffered in the last few years. The complex events of 2020 and 2021 took a toll on our families, neighbors, and communities. 

Our new mental health data report and overdose dashboard paint a clear picture of how much worse mental and behavioral health challenges got in recent years. 

Depression, anxiety, violence, challenges for youth, concerned teachers.

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. Many people struggle with mental health in silence because of stigma or challenges in finding the right kind of help. 

The pandemic, political climate, and violence limited how we lived life, worked and played.  Many of us faced stressors like isolation, grief and financial stress. 

These stressors can translate to anxiety, depression, and risky behaviors. In 2020-2021, we saw increased:

  • Emergency care visits for depression or anxiety.
  • Regional crisis line calls.
  • Violence and self-harm.
  • Drug poisonings.

Our youth had an especially hard time. We saw increases in things like youth crisis calls and eating disorders. And many of our kids didn’t feel safe. According to the 2021 Healthy Youth Survey of Pierce County 10th grade students: 

  • 18% said they did not feel safe at school. 
  • 13% said they were bullied at school.
  • 13% said they were bullied online. 
  • 11% said these feelings about being unsafe led them to miss school.

Teachers had a hard time, too. National data from July 2020-June 2021 shows:

  • Nearly half of teachers thought about quitting or changing to another district because of safety concerns or an unsupportive work environment. 
  • One in three teachers experienced at least one incident where a student verbally threatened them or threatened violence against them.

An alarming rise in death and injury from drugs.

Our overdose dashboard shows drug overdoses have increased quickly in Pierce County over the last several years. They outnumber motor-vehicle collisions and firearm deaths.  Fentanyl-related deaths are growing most quickly among people ages 18-24 across Washington.

This Thursday, we’ll take part in the Pierce County Opioid Task Force Summit to talk about creating a system of culture and care in our community. You can read more about thatregister to join in-person or watch online

It’s an important conversation because your demographics, experiences, and cultural environment all affect your mental health and wellbeing. And drug poisonings (overdoses) can be one result of poor mental health. Our dashboard shows deaths from all drugs in Pierce County jumped significantly from pre-pandemic levels. Deaths from opioids—fentanyl in particular—spiked the most. We see other stark problems:

  • The rate of drug-related Emergency Department (ED) visits spiked early in the pandemic.
    • This coincided with fentanyl’s increased presence.
  • The rate of drug-poisoning ED visits from summer to mid-autumn of 2020 remained somewhat constant.
    • The rate decreased in the winter of 2020, then spiked in the spring of 2021. 
    • 2021 rates remained largely above 2019 and 2020 levels. 

Working together to improve Pierce County’s behavioral health.

We want everyone to live the best lives possible. That means getting help early and often for your mental health. Having positive wellbeing means you can work through daily challenges, gain resiliency, and make healthy choices. 

Your environment, workplace, age, and social connections play a part in your mental wellbeing. Poverty, climate change and structural racism, for example, influence your mental health. 

We work to help you stay healthy, both mentally and physically. Two other recent reports looked at Pierce County behavioral health from different angles:

You can help! Mental Health First Aid can teach you to see, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders in your community. Your organization can learn to focus on trauma informed care.

And if someone you know is struggling with opioid dependency, you can tell them about our treatment services.

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