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COVID-19's Mental Health Impacts Could Drive Electoral Change

Two recent surveys show the impact of COVID-19 on mental health – and how that might play out in the November election.

Universal Health Services, Inc., which operates Spring Mountain Treatment Center in Las Vegas, just completed a national survey. It found more than half of Americans are experiencing increased stress, anxiety and depression as a result of the pandemic.

Troy Mire is the CEO and managing director for Spring Mountain Treatment Center. He said his center is getting more contacts from people expressing how stressed and anxious they are about the pandemic.

Mire said people are concerned about their finances and their health.

"There are multiple factors that people are worried about," he said, "The worry can also get to the level of paranoia where they're actually intensely fearful of how this might impact them."

Mire noted that many people believed the pandemic would be under control in just a few short months but that has not been the case. He said the long-term impact combined with several other factors makes the stress people experience right now very different from the normal stressors of life.

"This is a stress of an unknown," he said, "We really don't know anything about it. The information we get keeps changing. It changes all the time...And then, the really no end. There really doesn't seem to be anything people feel like they can do to control the impact." 

He said that kind of prolonged stress can make mental health issues people already have much worse.

In addition, he said people are often not getting the help they need because they're afraid of exposing themselves to the virus. Instead, they end up isolating themselves, which makes matters worse.

While the need for mental health care increases, the dollars for those services have been cut over the years.

The Recovery Advocacy Project wants to change that and they want voters to help them.

A recent survey the group did found more than three-quarters of Nevadans don’t know where political candidates stand on addiction and mental health recovery. 

But more than half of the people who responded said they would support a candidate from another party if they prioritized behavioral health services.

Ryan Hampton is the organizing director for Recovery Advocacy Project. He said a large number of people in the country and Nevada have been impacted by addiction or mental illness. He said they just need to be organized and informed.

"If our citizens knew where their elected officials stood on these issues," he said, "If they were more aware of what was happening, not just in Carson City but in their city and county halls, I don't think we would have seen those cuts."

Hampton said, in the past, stigma and prejudice against people with a mental illness or people in recovery have held back efforts to organize them into a voting bloc. 

Now, he said because of the impacts the pandemic is having on mental health and addiction it is time to make those unifying issues.

"It is time that we do it because it is the only way that we're going to see a significant increase in the services, such as recovery support services, that will curb and have proven to curb overdose deaths," he said.

He said candidates, policymakers, elected officials need to look at it as an opportunity in elections and in decision making because it is an issue that a majority of Americans support.

Hampton wants recovering addicts and people with a mental illness - and their loved ones - to step out of the stigma surrounding them, say they're in recovery or dealing with mental health challenges and then get involved with organizing that block of voters.

He said when people see that group of voters knocking on doors and making phone calls, "That's when you create power. We need a power shift in this state."

If you’re in crisis, there is help available.

Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


Ryan Hampton, Organizing Director, Recovery Advocacy Project;  Troy Mire, CEO/Managing Director, Spring Mountain Treatment Center

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.