One year later: COVID pandemic still taking major toll on mental illness –

One year later: COVID pandemic still taking major toll on mental illness –

ST. LOUIS ( — One year ago, March 23, 2020, more than one million people in St. Louis County and City were ordered to stay home as coronavirus spread. As a result, businesses closed, schools shut down, and meetings went virtual. 

“It just led to my demise. My mental health collapsed and then shortly thereafter my sobriety collapsed as well,” said Ben Busby, a recovering heroin addict.

“I guess it started with pain medicine. I broke my ankle playing basketball in college. I was misdiagnosed and overprescribed opioids,” said Busby. 

After years of sobriety, Busby relapsed at the end of 2019 and checked into Sana Lake Recovery Center in Maryland Heights. He relapsed again in April 2020 right as COVID was spreading and he lost his job. 

“Just the average person without an SUD, substance abuse disorder, is affected by this isolation so can you imagine if you have a substance abuse disorder how much that has exacerbated this epidemic of addiction,” said Emily James, Member for Life event coordinator for Sana Lake. 

More than 40 states reported increases in opioid-related deaths, according to the American Medical Association. Depression and anxiety rates also surged during COVID. More than 42 percent of people surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in December reported having symptoms of depression or anxiety compared to 11 percent during the first half of 2019. 

“People self-medicate maybe with alcohol, maybe with some other substance that could lead to future problems to deal with depression, to deal with anxiety. It’s not surprising that substance abuse is on an up surge also,” said Dr. James Cho, Sana Lake’s medical director. 

Sana Lake, which offers in and outpatient mental health and addiction services, opened in 2019 and has been at or near capacity ever since. 

“We need human interaction, we need to feel like there’s hope,” said Cho. 

As restrictions begin to ease, now one year later, there’s a sign of hope and a fighting chance for Busby to remain sober. 

“I’ve been sober since November 6th, 2020,” said Busby. 

If you need help, you can call Sana Lake Recovery Center at 314-916-9095 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

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