Portrait of sad young woman with face mask looking through the window at home, struggling with mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 Updates: Pandemic Takes Toll on Mental Health, Congenital Heart Defects May Exacerbate COVID Symptoms, and More

Portrait of sad young woman with face mask looking through the window at home, struggling with mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

Diagnosis tracker

More than 448 million cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed worldwide as of Monday evening, March 7, 2022, including more than 6 million deaths. Healthcare officials in the United States have reported nearly 81 million positive COVID-19 cases and more than 985,000 deaths. Source: www.worldometers.info/coronavirus

Vaccine tracker

More than 10.9 billion individual doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered worldwide as of Monday evening, including at least 555 million in the United States. Source: GitHub

Mental health services overwhelmed by pandemic

Although positive trends continue to show that the pandemic is receding across the country, an unprecedented need for mental healthcare during the past two years has placed an unbelievable burden on the industry.

According to a new report by the Washington Post, two years of bereavement, stress, and confusion due to the pandemic have stretched the mental health system “beyond its limits.” Patients cannot get appointments to see psychologists. Therapists are unable to see new clients. Children in need of counselors could be forced to wait nearly one year to receive an appointment.

According to the report, mental health officials are acknowledging the problem and President Biden has proposed expanding the “supply, diversity, and cultural competency” of mental health providers across the country.

The Post also reports that the federal government’s mental health and substance abuse referral line fielded more than 833,000 calls in 2020 alone, which was a 27% increase over 2019 before the pandemic began. Numbers reportedly rose in 2021 to 1.02 million.

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, a surge in demand for new referrals, especially for anxiety, depression, and trauma-related disorders has been constant. And 65% of the more than 1,100 psychologists who responded to the survey said they had “no capacity for new patients.”

In December, Vivek H. Murthy, United States Surgeon General, issued an advisory on “the urgent need to address the nation’s youth mental health crisis.”

The consequences are also affecting nurses and other healthcare providers. A comprehensive report released in Fall 2021, “Burnout Among Healthcare Workers in the COVID 19 Era: A Review of the Existing Literature” claims that “in the current period of global public health crisis due to the COVID-19, healthcare workers are more exposed to physical and mental exhaustion for the torment of difficult decisions, the pain of losing patients and colleagues, and the risk of infection, for themselves and their families.”

Nurses who are in need of assistance can reach out to available resources, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Related: Nurse Resilience in the Age of COVID-19

Congenital heart defects drastically affect COVID-19 conditions

Patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 were up to twice as likely to die or be critically sick if they also had congenital heart defects, according to new research from the American Heart Association (AHA).

A study published March 7 has also found that those born with heart defects also had a higher risk of needing a ventilator or being treated in the intensive care unit than people without heart defects. Additional underlying health conditions — heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, Down syndrome, diabetes, or obesity, to name a few — on top of a heart defect puts people at the highest risk for the most severe illness from COVID-19, the AHA reports. Men and people ages 50 and older also were among those at highest risk.

The study is reportedly one of the first to examine the added risk to people who are living with heart defects who are infected with the virus. “Data comparing COVID-19 outcomes among individuals with and without congenital heart defects has been limited,” said lead author Karrie Downing, MPH, in a prepared statement for an AHA press release.

Researchers analyzed more than 235,600 patients’ medical records for those without congenital heart defects who were hospitalized for COVID-19 across the United States from March 2020 until January 2021.

Compared to patients without defects, those who had heart defects had: higher rates of ICU admittance, 54% compared to 43%; higher ventilator use, 24% compared to 15%; and higher rates of death, 11% compared to 7%.

The increased risks held true regardless of age or having other health conditions, the study found. Not all COVID-19 patients with heart defects experienced poor outcomes, however, which points to the need for more research, according to the study’s authors.

Downing said the results suggest healthcare professionals should pay particular attention to preventive care for people born with heart defects.

“People with heart defects should be encouraged to receive the COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and to continue to practice additional preventive measures for COVID-19, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing,” she said. “People with heart defects should also consult with their healthcare teams about additional steps to manage personal risks related to COVID-19, given the significantly increased risk of severe infection and serious complications.”

There are more than a dozen different types of congenital heart defects, but having some kind of heart abnormality is the most common type of birth defect worldwide, according to AHA statistics.

Related: Cardiovascular Specialty CE Courses for Nursing Professionals

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