Mental health, drug use, and family distress: COVID-19’s penumbra | Nexsen Pruet, PLLC


On June 6, 2021, Governor Henry McMaster refused to extend the public health declaration of emergency related to the coronavirus in South Carolina. However, the data suggests that the long-term effects of the pandemic are far from over. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 33 million cases and nearly 600,000 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 in the United States as of June 15, 2021. [1] These two data points tell the true size of COVID-19. This short article examines the harmful effects of the pandemic on mental health, drug use, and family unity in South Carolina.

Mental health

Social isolation, financial distress, unemployment, food insecurity, long-term care, and evictions are stressors that COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the American psyche along with concerns about virus exposure. These stressors have created risks for future mental health challenges as well as current adversity.

A recent article from the New York Times [2] by organizational psychologist Adam Grant discussed the widespread experience of “languishing” as the “dominant emotion of 2021”. Corey LM Keyes defines “languishing” as “a state in which a person has no positive emotions about life and is not functioning well psychologically or socially and has not been depressed in the past year”.[3] Keyes claims that languishing is a critical predictive risk factor for future mental illness. Suffering health workers from Lombardy, Italy who provided care during the COVID-19 pandemic were found to be three times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder than their counterparts.[4]

A study conducted between April and June 2020 found that symptoms of anxiety disorders and depressive disorders in the United States increased significantly in 2019 compared to the same period. Younger adults, racial / ethnic minorities, unpaid adult caregivers, and key workers are the strongest. adversely affected, the study found. “Overall, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one negative mental or behavioral health status, including symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of trauma and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic , 3.). %), and with the onset or increase of substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%). The percentage of respondents who said they had seriously thought about suicide in the 30 days prior to completing the survey (10.7%) was significantly higher for those aged 18 to 24 (25.5%) who were ethnic Minorities (Hispanic respondents) [18.6%], non-Hispanic black [black] Respondents [15.1%]), self-reported unpaid caregivers for adults (30.7%) and key workers (21.7%). “[5] The 5,470 participants in the study said that “the prevalence of symptoms of anxiety disorder was about three times as high as in Q2 2019 (25.5% versus 8.1%) and the prevalence of depressive disorder was about four times as high as in second quarter of 2019 (24.3% versus 6.5%). “I would. “Thoughts of suicide have also increased; About twice as many respondents said they were considering serious suicidal ideation in the past 30 days as adults in the United States in 2018, over the past 12 months (10.7% versus 4.3%). ” I would. The long-term impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Americans is particularly worrying considering that COVID did not peak in the United States until January 2021, about seven months after this survey was conducted.

Substance use in South Carolina

The data suggests that South Carolinians, like their American counterparts, have turned to substances to cope with COVID-related stressors. In March 2020, Nielsen reported a year-over-year increase in retail alcohol sales of up to 55%. On March 1, 2021, as restaurants and bars reopened across the country, Nielsen reported in the first week that retail alcohol sales have not increased since the pandemic began, but retail alcohol sales still surpassed March 2019 by 20-24 30%. The SC Department of Revenue (SCDR), which oversees the licensing of the state’s alcoholic wholesalers and retailers, has presented The Charleston Post and Courier with figures pointing to a 27% increase in sales for the period March 15 to June 30, 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.[6]

Preliminary CDC mortality data for South Carolina predicts 1,625 overdose deaths in the twelve month period ending September 2020, a 45.3% increase from the 12 month period ending September 2019. This is well above the national average of 28.8% percent and is the fifth highest reported increase for that period, behind the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Unauthorized synthetic opioids, which may include fentanyl, are largely responsible for this increase, with 62.4% of predicted overdose deaths estimated to be synthetic opioids. Preliminary data also suggests that psychostimulant deaths in 2020 have overtaken prescription drug deaths. The final 2020 overdose death data will be reported in the fall of 2021.

Effects on the family

The mandatory social isolation of COVID-19 drove adults and children alike from public spaces such as schools, employers, health care providers and places of worship into their homes for long periods of time. The increasing common domesticity convinced many South Carolinians that home is not always where the heart is.

Between March 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021, the parties filed 17,994 lawsuits for dissolution of marriage through divorce across the state, according to the South Carolina Department of Justice. This is a 7.4% increase over divorce lawsuits filed between March 1, 2019 and February 28, 2020. The number of separate support and maintenance suits filed during this comparative period increased from 3,527 to 4,240. The total of all divorce lawsuits filed in the first year of the pandemic rose nearly 9.5%. The number of all motions filed with the South Carolina Family Court from February 28, 2020 to March 1, 2021 more than tripled from 64,375 to 195,503. In the juvenile delinquency category, the total number of registrations rose from 11,987 to 21,379.

Despite these large increases, there have been significant decreases in data from the South Carolina Department of Justice in other categories for the same period. The number of requests for parenting with attendance participation (VIP) (DSS only) fell from 74 to 14 and the number of cases of termination of parental rights (DSS) from 404 to 291. In the protection against domestic abuse category, the number of cases submitted by intimate partners fell from 3,749 to 2,752. In the “Abuse and Neglect” category, the number of registrations for child protection services decreased from 5,112 to 3,500 and in the “Adult Protection Services” category from 697 to 519. If “Other” reports of abuse and neglect are included, the overall category decreased from 5,946 to 4,318. One possible explanation for these declines in the face of such dramatic increases across the board is the pandemic-induced social isolation that has removed vulnerable individuals from the perspective of mandatory reporters in workplaces, schools, churches, medical practices and other public places.


While the Palmetto State public health declaration of emergency may have expired, the extent of the pandemic-sparked mental health, drug use and family crises remains to be seen.

This article was co-authored by Erin Johnson, Attorney at Nexsen Pruet.

[1] COVID data tracker, Ctr. for disease control and prevention (last visited on June 15, 2021).

[2] Adam Grant, There’s a name for the blah you feel: It’s called Languishing, ny times (April 19, 2021) (Updated May 5, 2021) / good / mind / covid-mental-health-languishing.html.

[3] Corey LM Keyes, Complete Mental Health: An Agenda for the 21st Century 293-312 (American Psychological Association 2003)

[4]Marta Bassi, Luca Negri, Antonella Delle Fave & Robert Accardi, The relationship between post-traumatic stress and positive mental symptoms in health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lombardy, Italy, 280 y. of mood disorders, 1, 1-6 (2021).

[5] August 14, 2020 (Volume 69, No. 32) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report [Atlanta, Ga.] U.S. Department of Health.

[6] Dave Infante, As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and alcohol sales rise, SC experts see cause for concern, Post and Courier (August 3, 2020) (updated December 15, 2020) https: //www.postandcourier .com /health/covid19/as-covid-19-pandemic-grinds-on-and-alcohol-sales-soar-sc-experts-see-cause-for/article_888c977e-d022-11ea-afd8-e37d4e548da0.html.

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